June 6, 2019, by Derek Hann, Havre Daily News
Friday, Montana Actors’ Theatre is starting what may become a new tradition, a Spring into the Past Festival, which will include performances of “Cyrano de Bergerac.”
With weather forecasts earlier this week predicting rain this weekend, MAT moved the event from its planned location behind Pershing Hall to the Montana State University-Northern Student Union Building.
The festival is a free Renaissance-type fair with entertainment, games, tarot card readings, face painting and traditional craft demonstrations as well as vendors and the productions of the play.
“It’s just fun,” MAT assistant artistic director and director of “Cyrano” Grant Olson said. “It’s just something to do, you could come in there and enjoy the whole day for free.”
The event starts Friday with limited vendors at 5 p.m. and a 7 p.m. showing of “Cyrano de Bergerac.” The festival starts Saturday at 4 p.m. with a 7 p.m. showing.
“Cyrano de Bergerac,” originally written by Edmond Rostand and first produced in 1897, is set in the 1640s and is a farce of the French romantic baroque period, Olson said.
The play was originally written in French and had a well-known film adaptation by the same name in 1990, directed by Jean-Paul Rappeneau, adapted by Jean-Claude Carrière and Rappeneau and starring Gérard Depardieu, Anne Brochet and Vincent Pérez, he added. But “Cyrano de Bergerac” has inspired modern works such as the 1987 romantic drama “Roxanne,” starring Steve Martin and Daryl Hannah.
The original production calls for 60 to 80 cast members, he said, but the English-adapted play MAT will be performing will allow for 12 cast members. He added that the play was also originally a verse play, and MAT’s production is still considered a verse play, but will be in a modern language and is easily understood – it is Americanized.
“We wanted it audience-accessible,” he said. “… It’s a ridiculous story line, that if you sat down and thought about it for any moment of time, you just go, ‘this just wouldn’t work.’ But if you just go along with it, it’s a classic willing suspension of disbelief, and you have fun.”
The play is centered around the main character, Cyrano, played by Jay Pyette, who has a ridiculously long nose which is on the edge of realistic, Olson said. Cyrano is a poet and playwright in addition to being the best swordsman in all of France.
“He’s the idea of the Renaissance man,” Olson said.
He’d have women swooning all over him, and could have any woman he wanted, except for his big nose, which seems to be more of his problem than anyone else’s. Cyrano is madly in love with Roxane, played by Tylyn Turner, who is also Cyrano’s second cousin – which wasn’t unacceptable at the time the play was written. But the adaptation MAT will be using does poke fun at this fact a little bit, Olson added.
In the guard with Cyrano is Christian de Neuvillette, played by Stephen Real, who is a young and handsome man, but he gets tongue tied whenever he is around a woman and Roxane falls in love with him.
Neuvillette can’t talk to Roxane because he is too nervous and Cyrano won’t talk to her because he thinks he’s grotesque, but Cyrano comes up with a plan to write letters Neuvillette can read to her using Cyrano’s words.
“So the two of them make the complete perfect man,” Olson added.
There is also another man who loves Roxane, De Guiche, played by Mike Zook, who is a pompous aristocrat and is the cousin of the cardinal.
“It’s a ridiculous farce, you know, three men in love with this woman … and she’s in love with the words,” Olson said.
Olson added that many of the props, such as oak barrels, had to be made by members of MAT as did costumes in the production.
He said that they also were able to get Chester native Jayme Green, a professor at Rocky Mountain College in Billings and a certified armsmaster, to work with the actors to choreograph the sword fighting, after a choreographer from Los Angeles could not make it to the production because of other obligations.
Olson said that he told Green that he did not want historically accurate sword fighting, because it is boring.
“I said, ‘I want Errol Flynn and I want it swash-buckley,” he said, adding that Green replied, “I do swash-buckley.”
MAT started rehearsing in March, he said, and several members have worked hard to put the production together.
Olson said that one of his favorite parts of the play is the scene where Cyrano finds De Guiche trying to woo Roxane and Cyrano pretends to be drunk to explain why he is there and convinces De Guiche that he is wooing the moon. Cyrano then convinces De Guiche to worship the moon with him.
“That bit is great and Jay and Mike are really funny in that,” Olson said.
Assistant Director Barry Brownlee said that the play has something for everyone and is something that everyone can enjoy.
“It’s a drama, it’s a comedy, it’s a romance. It kind of fits everyone’s needs a little bit,” he said.
Olson said that MAT wanted to do something different.
“We didn’t want to just do a regular show, we’ve done a bunch of regular shows, we wanted to do something more like an afternoon event that the whole family could come and enjoy different parts of,” he said.
The acting troupe moved the play from its original planned date in May to June to try to get better weather for the Spring into the Past Festival
The festival is Renaissance-type festival, Olson said. People will be wearing semi-costumes to the time period of the Renaissance and will have games, contests, food and drinks available. The event is free, but the food and drinks will be for sale and some of the vendors will be selling various items.
Sarah Manuel, owner of the Streatery food truck, will be providing food such as smoked chicken legs, roast salt beef on a bun and traditional stews in a bread bowl.
“Accurate-ish,” Olson said.
There will also be red and white wine, beer and mead, Olson added.
The event will also have Keri Woodwick spinning and selling wool goods, and David Chamber building and selling chainmail, Olson said. He added that games and competitions will be offered, which people can compete in for pride.
He said that MAT wants to have the event again in the future, next time with more of a full Renaissance fair feel.
“We wanted to put our toe in the water and do something that would be a fun event and see if it’s something that Havre and the area are interested in,” he said. “… If it goes well, we will want to do it again.”
He added that most of the vendors for the festival are also local community members.
“We thought we might as well show it off,” he said.
A home brewing competition will also be at the fair, in which local people can enter their home brewed beers and have them be judged by brewmaster Ty Pyette and other brewmasters in the area.
“It’s not like larger Renaissance festivals,” Olson said. “It’s kind of a small event to kick start the future. There is stuff for everybody.”