STAGE REVIEW : Youth Theatre's Admirable 'Cyrano'

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bravo to the California Youth Theatre for exceeding expectations in its staging of one of the most lyrical plays ever written, Edmond Rostand's "Cyrano de Bergerac."

Yes, the production and its cast of 8-to-21-year-olds have limitations, despite professional guidance from veteran director Malcolm Black and fight director B.H. Barry. The five acts of romance, earthy humor, tragedy and poetry begin with admirable momentum, then slow perceptibly. The three and a half hours do not fly by.

But, under the night sky at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre, there are many moments when an awareness of age is submerged in the enjoyment of hearing a living language, particularly as spoken by Christopher DuVal, an astonishing 19-year-old Cyrano.

DuVal, who has won student acting awards from the Music Center in Los Angeles and Washington's Kennedy Center, combines swagger with noble pathos. He moves with graceful authority; he celebrates each classic syllable. He plays to Cyrano's onstage admirers with roaring epithets--"Off, off, you offal! Lug your guts away!"--and has the depth to convey a sense of the tortured soul beneath the bombast. It's a remarkable performance for one so young.

Zac Hughes' Christian is uncharacteristically moody but comically tongue-tied beneath Roxane's window as Cyrano feeds him the words to win his lady. When impatient Cyrano takes over and loses himself in the intensity of his emotion, it is one of the truest passages of the night.

Well-spoken Ruth Brodsley is a brisk Roxane. The fourth in the love quadrangle is the proud Compte de Guiche (Anthony Cantrell). There's no real spark between any of the men and Roxane; the only passion is in the words.

The production loses its early panache in the later scenes--Cyrano's death scene points up the cast's youth, a clump of falling leaves lends an unintentionally comic touch.

Still, the triumphant moments linger, the clean lines of Robert W. Zentis' substantial set pieces and Mindy Sugino's costumes please the eye and Jonathan Wyman's lighting is evocative.

At 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East , Hollywood, Thursday at 8 p.m. $10; (213) 957-1054.

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