PROVO — Cyrano, From Nowhere is a new play that is so bad, it’s good.
Produced by Prospero Arts and Media and based (very) loosely on Edmond Rostand‘s Cyrano de Bergerac, this iteration of Cyrano takes place in a multiverse that includes scenes that occur in the midst of a play rehearsal, a space battle against cyborgs, and an ethereal otherworld that Cyrano can change or create with his mind. At the heart of it, though, is the dashing Cyrano and his hidden love for the beautiful Roxanne. Unfortunately, Roxanne has friendzoned Cyrano and instead loves the handsome soldier Christian. Cyrano helps Christian woo Roxanne . . . until earth faces off against an alien enemy.
Rostand’s play is a tried and true classic, so adapting it into another play encounters the first problem: Why? Why create a new stage version of a play that already works well on stage? On paper, a science fiction update of a classic story is a good idea. (Forbidden Planet is The Tempest in space.) But Cyrano, From Nowhere only adds confusion and incoherence to the original play. Moreover, Mahonri Stewart‘s science fiction tropes are all extremely derivative to even the most casual science fiction fan, with the biggest debts to Star Trek and Star Wars (with some Dr. Who thrown in). The alien cyborgs are a poor man’s imitation of the Borg and are even defeated the same way as in multiple Star Trek episodes: having them assimilate a person who exploits their interconnectedness. The play is best when it sticks to the Cyrano story, but even then it makes me wonder why the company didn’t just produce the royalty-free Cyrano de Bergerac instead.
Despite the familiarity of the story, there is a lot to enjoy in Cyrano, From Nowhere, but it is enjoyable in the way some people enjoy Mystery Science Theater 3000 movies, The Room, or Troll 2. Like those “so bad, it’s good” films, surely some of the people involved with Cyrano, From Nowhere know that they are working on a turkey. I don’t know if that includes director Jarom Brown. But it is clear that Brown does not know what to do with actors who are not the principal focus of a scene. Several scenes had awkward onlookers (e.g., the argument between Monty and Cyrano about the play within the play), but where this was most problematic was in the action scenes when Guy (played by Cody Eckman) or the cyborgs would stand around and let Cyrano and Roxanne deliver important dialogue. The awkwardness also extended to dialogue delivery, especially when Angela Rose Cava, in the role of Roxanne, is forced to stand in heels on a small rehearsal block that serves as her balcony in the famous wooing scene. Such placement greatly constrains her movements and made her unable to use her full body to portray a woman being successfully wooed.
Another problem with the acting was in Rylee Ramptom’s wooden performance in the role of Heather, a woman who assists Cyrano in various ways and has unrequited feelings for Cyrano. (The audience knows this because she said that she is enamored with Cyrano in her first scene, thereby disposing with any need for subtext.) Ramptom is monotone and quiet when she speaks, and I failed to detect any trace of emotion in her voice. Zachary Ballard, as Christian, gives more of an effort, but the whiplash-inducing changes from braggart soldier to shy lovesick man to man-sel in distress were too much for him. Ballard’s hammy scene where he defeats the cyborgs is some of the best scenery chewing found anywhere, though. Eckman’s performance of two his roles, Guy and Monty, were so identical that I often had trouble figuring out who he was in many of his scenes. I still don’t know if the two characters are actually the same person.
The only acting performance that was convincing was from Jakob Lau Smith Tice as Cyrano. Tice is a swaggering, confident presence in the play. He has the charisma needed to play a more traditional Cyrano, and he seems somehow able to sell the idea that his character is an omnipotent yet vulnerable person. Like any good science fiction actor, Tice seems to believe the stylized dialogue he speaks and makes it seem natural. Unfortunately, with his less experienced castmates having a mix of realistic, absurdist, and unpolished acting styles, Tice’s performance seems to stand alone in what is supposed to be an ensemble show.
Like any cult work beloved for its awfulness, so many moments of Cyrano, From Nowhere raised questions that are never fully answered. Why does Cyrano act for two scenes like Captain Kirk with a light saber? If Cyrano can create worlds with his mind, why doesn’t he just change the setting to an environment where the cyborgs can’t survive? If Christian is already a soldier, why does he need to enlist when the war begins? Why did anyone think they could create a Star Trek transporter effect on stage? Why does “The Collective” of cyborgs assimilate Christian for his knowledge about killing if they already know how to kill people? Why did anyone think that a 200-square foot stage was large enough for fight scenes? Why do Cyrano and Roxanne think that an alien base while they watch their friend get assimilated by aliens is the best time and place to explore their feelings and kiss? Why do the cyborgs start playing a hand slapping game while assimilating Christian? The list goes on.
I am sure that some of the people involved with Cyrano, From Nowhere will not appreciate my reaction to their play. But beneath the criticism is a lot of respect for what they have done. It is a great accomplishment to mount any play, and there is a great deal of bravery in opening a show the day after the governor asks people to limit public activities to control the coronavirus pandemic and almost every other show in the state is closing. There is a commitment to the material; some of these actors really believe in this story, and it takes courage to expose a new, untested play to criticism.
For fans of a certain type of production, Cyrano, From Nowhere‘s early closing is a tragedy. The company is exploring options for streaming the show in the near future. If those plans come to fruition, then Cyrano, From Nowhere is a must-see, because you have to see it to believe it.