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Story of Cyrano de Bergerac gets new twist at Niagara University

LEWISTON – The story of Cyrano de Bergerac is a story we all think we know from its incarnations in several modern movies.

But Niagara University will present an adapted version of Edmond Rostand’s original classic comedy with a twist – it places women in the lead roles in “Cyrana,” a world-premiere event on stage in the Leary Theatre, March 26 to 31.

“Cyrana,” was adapted and directed by associate professor/associate director of Niagara University Theatre Doug Zschiegner, who received a grant from the Niagara University Summer Research Council to spend the summer writing and researching the script.

Zschiegner said the story of Cyrano, a man with a large, unattractive nose who finds himself part of a love triangle, may not be as familiar as people think since he adapted the original classic, not the one most have seen in modern movies.

He said the classic version is fairly mature and doesn’t get produced that often, so most people may be in for a surprise.

“The most recent movie is the Steve Martin version and he changed the ending. People come in (to the play) knowing ‘Roxanne’ that 1987 movie, but (Martin) changed the ending significantly,” added Zschiegner.

“The original script is in the public domain, but the English translations are not. I tried to tell the same story with new dialogue, but with the genders reversed. I tried not to change the behavior or to say a woman wouldn’t do this. So you are seeing the original classic. In terms of language, it is slightly elevated and in verse, but it is far more accessible than Shakespeare,” he said.

Cyrana is a poet, a soldier and hopeful romantic, a mistress of all trades, who is exasperatingly stubborn and exceptionally skilled, but has one enormous self-esteem problem – her nose. Yet she encounters a tangle as she vies for her own true love against both her adversary and close friend.

He said the play is set in the 1640s, which is an especially difficult period for costumes and sets, so they are “making up” a 1640s setting, but with women as the dominant gender.

He said his decision to adapt the classic came from two impulses: to present a play that has more roles for women, which is a common problem in classic plays; and to look at the familiar story in a fresh way.

“That’s where ideas about gender sort of bubbled forth in unexpected ways, simply by taking a 17th century character – the original Cyrano de Bergerac was a real person – as written by a 19th century man and embodied by a 21st century woman,” said Zschiegner.

He said he has “sat in almost every chair in the theater” in his long, long, long career, but this is the first time he has officially adapted anything.

“The female students are really taking this by the horns – these particular roles – because they know they will never get to play these roles again, as a woman,” said Zschiegner. “The men are finding some very interesting aspects – what it’s like to not be in the dominant gender. To not assume they have the power, especially in this period when his main role is to attract a mate.”

Zschiegner said he has received a lot of interest from other universities and is considering publishing his work if the production goes well.

Niagara University theatre performance majors who are in the cast include: Phoebe Wright (Cyrana De Bergerac); Arianne Davidow (Christiane De Neuvillette); Karen Harty (Raguena); Ember Tate (La Bret); Marina Laurendi (De Guiche); Anna Krempholtz (Lingnie’re/Captain Carbon De Castel Jaloux); Kaylee LeRoy (Valvert/Baker/Poet/Cadet); Jean O’Harrow (Montfleury/Priest/Baker/Cadet); Rachael Buchanan (Muskateer/Cadet); Haley Marie Keeley (Bellerose/Cadet);  Colleen Pine (Brissaille/Baker/Poet/Cadet); Kayla Storto (Cavalry/Poet/Cadet/Musician); Jessica Yagoda (Pickpocket/Poet/Cadet); Bridget Cauley (Apprentice/Baker/Cadet/Musician); Mary Elizabeth Martin (Jodolet/Poet/Cadet); Matthew DiVita (Robin); Matthew Gilbert (Chaperone/Brother Claude); Ian Francis LaLonde (Luis/Gerard/Father Abbot); Russell Wilson (Orange Boy/Baker/Brother Bertrum); William Tschaepe (Gustave/Actor/Monk); and Nick Edwards (Germaine/Actor/Monk).

The stage manager is theatre design/technology major Marissa Allen. Assistant stage managers are theatre studies major Alana Arman and design/technology major Robert Van Doran. In addition, scenic design is by design/technology major Nicholas W. Seres.

“Cyrana” will be on stage in the Leary Theatre within the Elizabeth Ann Clune Center for Theatre, Clet Hall, at 7 p.m., March 26, 30 and 31 and at 7:30 p.m. on March 27 and 28. There will be 2 p.m. matinees with post-show discussion on March 28 and 29.

Tickets are $15 general admission and $10 for Niagara University employees, alumni, friends of NU Theatre, senior over 62, and youth 21 and younger.

Niagara University students are entitled to one free ticket. Non-NU students with a student ID card may be admitted free of charge when tickets are available five minutes prior to curtain.

Tickets may be purchased in advance online at http://theatre.niagara.edu; in person at the box office, from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m., Mondays through Fridays or one hour prior to curtain; by phone at 286-8685 or by email request at theatre@niagara.edu.

The next play that will be presented by the Niagara University Theatre will be the popular musical “Guys and Dolls,” from April 23 to May 3.

email: nfischer@buffnews.com