FTT professor and alumna team up for modern adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac

This year, Notre Dame’s Department of Film, Television, and Theater (FTT) put on the musical CYRANO, adapted from the 1897 play by Edmon Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac.  Professor Matt Hawkins partnered with 2021 FTT alumna Veronica Mansour to produce the show, which ran from February 17-27 at Philbin Studio Theater, DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.

The show follows Cyrano, a gifted poet and skilled swordsman with an unfortunate deformity—her exceptionally large nose. In an attempt to woo Roxanne, the beautiful and astute object of her affection, Cyrano teams up with Christian, a handsome simpleton with whom Roxanne has fallen in love. Cyrano communicates her love through a middle man for fear that her nose makes her unattractive, and Christian relies on Cyrano to compensate for his dim wit. Described by FTT as “a swashbuckling love story with a modern musical twist,” the show was full of riveting swordplay and fight scenes, choreographed by Hawkins.

This new adaptation offers a novel approach to the classic Renaissance romance story. In addition to new music and lyrics written by Mansour and script written by Hawkins, the title role of Cyrano was changed to be a female lead. Despite the musical taking place in 17th century France where, until the French Revolution, same-sex relationships were criminalized, the fact that Cyrano is attracted to women is never acknowledged by the other characters, nor is the nature of her love seen as a hindrance to her relationship with Roxanne. Her large nose remains the only barrier stopping Cyrano from pursuing Roxane.

In the FTT website’s description of the show, Hawkins writes, “We’ve all heard the term ‘Renaissance man.’ In our modern adaptation, Cyrano is a Renaissance woman—she’s a philosopher who writes poetry, sword fights, sings, dances—she does it all. But what she wants most is the love of her best friend, Roxane.” Hawkins declined the Irish Rover’s request for comment.

In an interview with the Observer, Grace Thomas, who played Cyrano, shared: “As a story about someone who is queer-identifying, I had some students come up to me and say that they felt they were represented in a way that was unique because [Cyrano’s identity] wasn’t the focus of the story, but it was so normalized.”

She continued: “It’s interesting because, in the 17th century, something like that wouldn’t have been really accepted, but because it has this modern twist, you can include it without calling attention to it.”

Actor Tim Merkle expressed that the motivation behind the feminization of Cyrano was one of female empowerment: “I think this show explored this notion of women who can thrive in this male dominated world and be respected, not because they are specifically a woman, but are respected by their abilities, regardless of gender.”

A review of CYRANO published in the Observer praised the show, commenting on the adaptation of the original text to include a same-sex relationship. Ayden Kowalski wrote, “The decision to reinterpret this love story gives the play a special weight, as there are many people today who, like Cyrano, feel that the external constraints of their community inhibit them from sharing their true feelings.”

Actor Tommy O’Brien, who played Cyrano’s emotionally-in-tune best friend Le Bret, stated that this version “subverts traditional gender norms in a way that focuses on the characters, such as Le Bret being emotionally open and Cyrano being closed off … as well as creating a world in which Cyrano and Roxanne’s love is normalized, even though the story is set in the 17th century.”

In an interview with the Rover, actress Macy Mateer, who played the zany aspiring poet Ligniere, said that Cyrano is “A woman [who is] a master of all trades, well versed in sword fighting, a poet, brilliant and quippy, and also a distinguished leader and respected member of the community, and vulnerable, and aggressive, and all these juicy things that men typically get to be.”

Despite these qualities, the show features Cyrano’s melancholy dissatisfaction with her life. She believes that her brilliant mind can be separated from her less-than-brilliant appearance and combined with Christian’s beautiful-but-stupid frame. All of this is done in order to create a “perfect man” for Roxanne. Cyrano agrees to scheme with Christian not simply because she loves Roxanne and wants her happiness, as in the original, but because deception is the only way she can ensure that at least a small part of her will be loved by Roxanne.

The problem of Cyrano and Christian’s dualistic view of the human person goes unresolved. “What makes you sad is this perpetual running away from yourself,” Mateer said. The show suggests that in order to be happy, one must only start living as one’s authentic self, seeking to bridge the divide between body and soul.

This climactic revelation comes in the form of a song, sung by Ligniere, a character previously used for comedic relief. Ligniere spends most of the show imitating Cyrano, despite the conflict in Cyrano’s life.

Mateer says of this dynamic, “I don’t think it’s an ‘I’m going to be a carbon copy of you.’ It’s an ‘I’m a witness to you living authentically, and if I can walk, talk, think, like you, then I will end up figuring out how I can live authentically, too … Ligniere gets the character arc that Cyrano doesn’t get to complete. She [Cyrano] never gets to realize her true self … and Ligniere gets to do that.”

​​Though the cast and writers of CYRANO posit that a woman can play an authentic man, this gender-flipped character is portrayed as the least true-to-herself of the entire cast. Through Ligniere’s character arc, the audience is led to believe that the imitation of discord will lead to happiness and self-actualization.

Every performance of CYRANO was sold out, and an extra performance was added for Wednesday, February 23. This additional performance sold out 15 minutes after tickets went on sale.

Elizabeth Hale is a freshman from Northville, Michigan studying political science. Anyone with tips on sword fighting or singing, please reach out to her at ehale@hcc-nd.edu

Photo credit: Department of Film, Television, and Theater, University of Notre Dame