By Laura Heuston
Loosely based on the classic play Cyrano de Bergerac, Calvin Berger takes a single aspect of Rostand’s work and places it within the context of a modern high school- now, an eloquent nerd with a big nose helps an illiterate jock talk to the girl they both have a crush on. Much of the content of the original play is lost, and so is much of the charm, however the leading performers make a truly valiant attempt at rectifying the absence of panache, even if this is a rather unforgivable omission from the text.
John Tsakiris does an admirable job of humanising Calvin, who in the absence of his swashbuckling heroism has the potential to come off as a creepy limp noodle. In fact, given that there is next to no redeeming dialogue for his character, I would argue that the relatability and endearing aspects of the character are entirely the work of Tsakiris, who must be commended for pulling more out of the script than was originally there. As Bret, played by Mickey Polon, points out, no, having a big nose is not an excuse for lying to everyone you know and verging into stalking behaviour, however the more positive interactions with other characters and the dorky but sweet mannerisms of this Calvin direct us firmly towards an interpretation of the protagonist as a well-meaning, but foolish and immature teen. We can forgive him, because we can believe that he learns his lesson in the end.
Polon provides us with a cheeky Bret, and some wonderful vocal stamina. She lends an element of sass and defiance to the character, and has some lovely moments with Tsakiris, which prevented me from leaping onto the stage and demanding to know why she was pining after this fool. Bret seemed to know what she was doing, although I have to admit, I’m still not completely sure why she didn’t ditch him for origami guy. Young love I guess. Unfortunately, balance issues prevented us from appreciating the sweeter elements of her singing, especially in “Saturday Alone”. In fact the band proved to be a constant issue throughout, being out of tune to the point that it was actively hard to enjoy the women’s solos especially, which was truly a shame.
Leo Tracey (Matt) and Laura Dale (Rosanna) do their absolute best to breathe some life into two truly one dimensional characters. However in the case of Rosanna, it is pretty much impossible to make a character whose one comedic element is a bad acronym interesting and as for Matt? He’s dumb, we get it. Nevertheless they persisted, and Dale instead provides us with a gorgeous vocal tone and skill, and Tracey must be commended on his wonderful comedic timing (his vocals were pretty great too). I cannot say that I could see anything else to really do with those characters, so every moment that they weren’t utterly bland should be counted as a massive triumph. Genuinely, they did so well.
In terms of direction, it was rather clear that this was Ashley Roberts’ debut. However she has done the right thing by trying her hand in student theatre, and I congratulate her for making some bold choices. The idea of integrating an ensemble was hers and I would say that while there were a few scenes where the reason for their presence was unclear, their inclusion in “How Could I Compete With That?” provided a lovely example of how a large group can enrich a scene. The biggest issue for the ensemble by far was energy- the opening number was exceptionally low, and there were a couple of members that massively overacted throughout.
Overall however, my biggest criticism of the production was the use of blackouts- there were far too many and they lasted far too long. Scenes that consisted of one short conversation followed and finished with blackouts when the same effect could have been had by actors simply exiting/entering, except we wouldn’t have to sit in the dark. Some of the set changes were simply far too ambitious- and again, I want to stress that student theatre is absolutely the place to make these attempts- however there were a number of changes in which multiple props were brought on that served no purpose. The prime culprit was easily the diner scene in Act 1. We didn’t need the cutlery, or the fake candles, or the table numbers, or the giant bar that was wheeled on and off; putting table cloths on the already present tables would have worked just fine.
This production had some lovely moments, and I am pleased that MACMS is a society where people can take risks, even if they don’t always come off. I look forward to seeing what these cast and production team members do in the future, especially if they decide to throw caution to the wind and perform the original Cyrano de Bergerac- I think with some classic writing they might do an amazing job.
Photo by Laura Heuston
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.