Arts

Stages

Jeremiah Kissel has a nose for playing characters like Cyrano

Jeremiah Kissel rehearsing a swordfight in “Cyrano.”
Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff
Jeremiah Kissel rehearsing a swordfight in “Cyrano.”

Jeremiah Kissel expertly brandishes a sword as his foes slash and strike at him. The swordfight is swift, powerful, and intense, which Kissel says is also an apt description of “Cyrano,” the romantic comedy running at Gloucester Stage Company Friday through Aug. 11.

“The story moves along at a breakneck speed,” says Kissel, who stars as the title character. “The banter is fast and funny, but manages these shifts from sitcom rhythms to majestic poetry. And then of course, we get to fight with swords.”

Playwright/actress Brenda Withers teamed up with actor Jason O’Connell for a new adaptation of the Edmond Rostand classic, “Cyrano de Bergerac,” deploying just five actors to play all the key characters. Rostand’s tale, originally written entirely in verse, follows a romantic idealist whose oversize nose makes him self-conscious and certain he is unworthy of love. Cyrano secretly pines for the beautiful Roxane, but when she falls in love with the handsome but dim-witted Christian, a soldier in Cyrano’s troop, Cyrano agrees to provide the words for Christian to woo and win Roxane. Although Roxane falls in love with the words and sentiments, Cyrano doesn’t reveal he is the author until it’s nearly too late.

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“When I first got the part I thought, ‘What’s not to love about this guy?’ ” says Kissel, “You think you know so much about characters like Cyrano or Tevye,” he says, mentioning the character from his acclaimed performance in New Repertory Theatre’s “Fiddler on the Roof,” “but you discover these little moments that surprise you. It’s not enough to think of these guys as heroic. Cyrano keeps slipping on banana peels, making mistakes that, from a distance, seem so obvious. That’s what makes him really interesting to play.”

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Kissel says he’s also struck by the adapters’ understanding of the relationship the characters have with language and to the themes of the play.

“It’s not written in French or in verse, but there is some poetic imagery and wonderful wordplay,” he says. “The physical comedy provides all the weaponry for the words.”

Director Robert Walsh says the dialogue in “Cyrano” is breezy and insouciant while honoring the spirit of the original script.

“I’m always looking for the music of the play,” says Walsh, Gloucester Stage’s artistic director and a sought-after fight director, “and this adaptation manages to combine vaudeville, music hall slapstick, commedia, and some hearty swordfighting into a tragically romantic tale.”

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Tightening the play to work for only five actors focuses the story, Walsh says, on the essential emotions.

“The stakes in the play are very high and create a level of urgency,” he says, “but my job is to help the actors focus on the action, keep them from falling into an emotional abyss, and leave the emotional reactions to the audience.”

And that nose?

“We’re working on exactly what it will look like,” says Walsh. “It has to be prominent enough so that people try to avoid looking at it, but it’s a characteristic that is deeply connected to Cyrano’s persona, one that really drives his relationships.”

Lyric Stage names O’Connor

Courtney O’Connor has been named the new associate artistic director at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston. O’Connor’s directing work has ranged from “Blood on the Snow” at the Old State House to a community-based production of “Our Town” in the Berkshires, as well as productions at the Lyric, Nora Theatre Company, and elsewhere. She is on the faculty at Emerson College and has served as education director for Commonwealth Shakespeare Company and artistic director at Tremont Street Project/Coyote Theatre Project, where she oversaw the creation of more than 150 new 10-minute plays by at-risk youths from Boston.

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“We interviewed many great candidates for this position,” says the Lyric’s producing artistic director, Spiro Veloudos, “and we’re excited for Courtney to join the team.”

Veloudos says O’Connor’s responsibilities will include some directing, “probably in the 2019-2020 season,” along with casting, season planning, and some dramaturgical duties. “I’m eager to have her grow into the role rather than have her fit a specific list of duties,” he says. “We worked well together on ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ [Veloudos’s award-winning production, for which O’Connor served as associate director] so I’m eager to hear her ideas and see what she’d like to pursue.”

McNally’s a proud PAPA

Four-time Tony Award-winning playwright Terrence McNally will be honored with the first annual Provincetown American Playwright Award by the Provincetown Theater Festival. The award will be presented at the Provincetown Theater’s benefit on July 20, which coincides with the opening week of the theater’s summer production of McNally’s “Love! Valour! Compassion!”

McNally, author of plays and musicals that include “Master Class,” “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune,” “Lips Together, Teeth Apart,” “The Full Monty,” “Ragtime,” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” said in a statement, “I am honored beyond all measure to be the recipient of the first PAPA award. Since I turn 80 in November, maybe you want to make it the GRANPAPA award? I won’t mind.”

“Love! Valour! Compassion!” runs July 16-Aug. 30 at the Provincetown Theater. Tickets are $40. Go to www.provincetowntheater.org or call 508-487-7487.

Outdoors with ‘We the People’

Double Edge Theatre’s summer spectacle returns with “We the People,” a new version of the production that debuted in 2017. This year’s “We the People” reflects the company’s 10-month exploration of surrealist artist Leonora Carrington, and examines the connection between imagination and the world. While traveling around meadows, streams, and barns, audiences will hear the stories of a farmer, a poet, an immigrant, a suffragist, and others who resisted social and political oppression at different times and in different places. Always an adventure worth taking, Double Edge’s spectacles include music, aerial acrobatics, dance, and performance surprises. “We the People,” runs July 18-Aug. 19. For tickets, go to www.doubleedgetheatre.org.

CYRANO

Presented by Gloucester Stage Company, July 13-Aug. 11. Tickets $15-$45, 978-281-4433, www.gloucesterstage.com

Terry Byrne can be reached at trbyrne@aol.com.