Cyrano de Bergerac, Edmond Rostand’s classic romantic tragedy of false identity, is given a truncated treatment by The Leslieville Players at the 2019 Toronto Fringe Festival. A deeply proud man, with a famously long nose, desires a woman. He’s brilliant in battle and with words, but she falls for a simpler man with a beautiful face. Heartbroken, he agrees to provide the words for the other man’s wooing. The story is probably familiar: the setting is not.
I love site-specific shows that work despite and because of their limitations, and this production of Cyrano is a winning use of the form. This is a relaxed production that doesn’t take itself too seriously, yet still largely delivers a self-assured theatre experience. The audience sits under a small tent on the front lawn of 74 Jones Avenue, near Dundas. Fringe Hot Tip for Hot Days: Sit in the middle row if you can; the sun encroaches on the front row, and the back row has a tent-obscured view of the balcony, which features in a few key scenes. Jumbo freezies are also provided gratis, a very nice touch. Audience members can move, take pictures, or talk if desired, but nobody was distracted enough to speak, other than cheering.
The concept is deliberately anarchic, in that we’re told that the rehearsal period was strictly reduced to four days. Company members are encouraged to call for lines if they forget, which earns them a prompt and a spray from the prompter’s Super Soaker. Since this is the company’s second presentation of the production, to raise the stakes for returning players, a rogue element, “swing” Kevin Forster, has been introduced. Instead of serving as an understudy, he is forced to go on in a randomly drawn role for each performance – this afternoon, Roxane – and the actor he replaces takes on the bit parts. The slip-ups were minimal, with Forster naturally bearing the brunt of it, and added to the enjoyment rather than detracting from it. The front row is also in the Super Soaker Splash Zone, which may actually be a blissful respite from the heat.
In slightly less than an hour – the production may hold for a couple of minutes in deference to a particularly noisy garbage truck – we’re treated to a very stripped-down, purely comedic version of Cyrano, with condensed characters and an entirely different ending with an empowering message of self-honesty. The last two acts are essentially cut, leaving the set-up, with a taste of its entertaining, signature wordplay, and a whittled-down wooing scheme of a couple of climactic scenes. It’s not the same play, but, you know what? It really works. I didn’t find myself missing much of the war plot or tragedy, but if you plan to watch this instead of doing your course reading, be forewarned that your final exam will come as a surprise.
Director Jack Rennie makes clever use of the house and neighbourhood’s features, joking with us when a particularly impressive scene is “offstage.” Actors swordfight on the house steps, call from across the street, and work with the myriad distractions that come with the territory, such as the residents of the house needing to exit. I found myself impressed by the actors’ facility with their roles, particularly Sean Jacklin in the titular role – he almost makes you forget the glaringly obvious false nose is fake – and Andrew Cameron as rich asshole de Guiche. They’re helped by effective costuming that manages to do a lot with a small budget.
Though it may be a bit of a hike to Jones and Dundas, if you’re looking for a silly, cheerful show to put a smile on your face, Cyrano de Bergerac might be right up your alley. Just keep your nose out of the sun.
- Cyrano de Bergerac plays at 74 Jones Ave.. (74 Jones Ave.)
- Tickets are $13, including a $2 service charge. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes and discounts for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Festival Box Office at Scadding Court (275 Bathurst St.), and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- The Toronto Fringe Festival is scent-free: please do not wear perfumes, colognes, or other strongly-scented products.
- Thursday July 4th, 2:00 pm
- Friday July 5th, 2:00 pm
- Saturday July 6th, 2:00 pm
- Saturday July 6th, 4:00 pm
- Sunday July 7th, 2:00 pm
- Sunday July 7th, 4:00 pm
- Thursday July 11th, 2:00 pm
- Friday July 12th, 2:00 pm
- Saturday July 13th, 2:00 pm
- Saturday July 13th, 4:00 pm
- Sunday July 14th, 2:00 pm
- Sunday July 14th, 4:00 pm
Photo provided by the company