To nose him is to love him. A nose by any other name would smell as sweet. Nobody nose the trouble I’ve seen.
Stop me if you nose where I am going with this.
Perhaps the most famous nose in history will get its due once again with the new Sierra Repertory Theatre production of “Cyrano.” Based on the famed late 19th-century French play “Cyrano de Bergerac” by Edmond Rostand, the story of a man with the striking schnoz and poet’s heart opens Friday, Sept. 23, at the company’s East Sonora Theatre.
Set in 17th-century France, the production will bring wordplay and swordplay, romance and subterfuge to the stage. The show stars New York-based actor Daniel Harray in the title role. The Sierra Rep newcomer has worked with the Seattle Repertory Theatre, Portland Center Stage, Shakespeare Theatre Company and The Kennedy Center in the past and is set to appear in the new season of the Netflix hit “Orange Is the New Black.” The performer wears a prosthetic nose for his role in the SRT company role part, but said his prominent proboscis actually helped him get into character.
“I actually really like it a lot. It’s as if I have a teeny, tiny mask on my face that gives me license to go for broke,” he said.
Sierra Rep co-founder and producing director Dennis Jones helms the new production and handled the set design for the period piece. Harray is joined in the cast by returning performer Samantha Bruce as Roxane, the object of Cyrano’s concealed affections. Bruce previously performed in the company in the title role of “Cinderella,” Julie Jordan in “Carousel” and Louise in “Gypsy.” New York actor Tug Rice makes his company debut as the handsome Christian, for whom Cyrano ghostwrites love notes to give to Roxane.
Harray said he fell in love with the story of Cyrano and its complicated love triangle when he was 13 years old and saw it for the first time done by a community theater group in Carmel.
“I think falling in love with it as a teenager, there’s a lot to relate to in the main character of Cyrano. He has big dreams, but of course has this enormous nose that he believes makes him ugly and unworthy of love,” Harray said. “Cyrano of course wants to express his long-standing love for Roxane, the heroine of the play, but believes she would never take him seriously.”
The actor said he was also drawn to Cyrano’s “very poetic soul” and the beautiful language in the play. But the show isn’t all just swooning and love notes. The production features two big, lively fight scenes, which show off Cyrano’s excellent sword skills. That required the company bring in a fight choreographer. Zoë Swenson-Graham, who is trained as an Equity stage combat teacher in the United Kingdom, handles the show’s central fights.
Swenson-Graham, who has worked in the Bay Area since returning to the States from England almost two years ago, said Cyrano’s skills with a sword are integral to the plot.
“It’s such a classic story, such a well-known story, and obviously Cyrano is a famous fighter. You want to incorporate some real sword work into the choreography so it’s not just banging blades a couple times and running off,” she said.
She said Harray has proved to be a worthy swordsman and fighter.
“You come into these things and pray to God people can move and try your best to make it as exciting as possible. We’re lucky we got somebody like him to hold it all together,” she said. “You try to get real technique in because that is part of character.”
Harray said performing a role with such physical and lyrical demands was tricky.
“That is the gorgeous challenge of this role – you’re asked to do a lot of physical work. You need to be virtuosic physically as well as with language,” he said. “That is just an intrinsic challenge of this particular role.”
To help bring Cyrano’s world alive, the show features a 10-person cast and period set and costuming. Working behind the scenes are costume designer Alex Jaeger, lighting designer Christopher Van Tuyl and stage manager Emily Gatesman.
Harray said he hopes people leave the theater remembering the importance of looking past appearances to appreciate the beauty within.
“Cyrano, like many of us at different times, gets completely caught up in surfaces and believes even though he is this extraordinary guy that his ugly face will keep him from experiencing love,” Harray said. “He judges a book by its cover – one of the things he learns during the course of this story is it is possible for people to look beyond the surface.”