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August 20, 2007

Blog-a-Book: Cooking up a Dilemma

Cyrano2 Act II of Cyrano could be entitled "Poetic Justice." All 11 scenes of the act take place in the bakery of Ragueneau, the cook and aspiring poet who wraps his pastries in sonnets he has written. He is preparing to host a gathering of fellow writers and daftly composing a new work in the midst of managing his bakers -- not unlike the handiwork of the rhyming, duelling Cyrano, whose recent exploits have already become legendary. Poetically (ahem), the bakery is the location of Cyrano's meeting with Roxane.

And as women are prone to do to men whom their beauty has captivated, Roxane punctures Cyrano's aura of confidence and suavity. Thus far, she seems to be the only one capable of doing so. The extent of our hero's swagger is brought fully to bear when he, while waiting for Roxane, confronts a musketeer who is flirting with Ragueneau's wife. The musketeer doesn't dare even offer up a quick verbal jab about Cyrano's nose.

Still, at least three times in this act is Cyrano left speechless on account -- directly or indirectly -- of his adored. When she enters the shop, Cyrano is prepared with a letter announcing his affections, and he draws some hope when Roxane thanks him for humiliating her would-be fiance. "So, madam, it was not my nose...that was behind our quarrel, but your fair features. Good."

Yet the primary reason for Roxane's visit is to ask for Cyrano's aid in protecting her love, Christian, following his enlistment into the cadets. A more difficult request to hear, the ears could scarce find. So difficult, in fact, that Cyrano says of his Act I brawl with an angry mob, 100 strong: "It's not the hardest thing I've done today." He obliges, but is devastated.

Adding insult to injury, a crowd of fans and military brethren -- and even a reporter from the local gazette -- have gathered to congratulate Cyrano. He gives an impressive soliloquy on his resistance to celebrity, proclaiming that an artist such as he should be sheltered from the edits of a publisher or the critique of the media. His friend Le Bret, however, interprets the pomposity of his speech as a cynical defense mechanism to avoid the wounds of his failure to win Roxane's heart.

Perhaps so. Clearly, Cyrano is not so content to be alone as he pretends. The fear of rejection can be a powerful motivator in a man -- usually for the worse. Yet when Cyrano meets Christian, he is impressed, and is generous in offering his romantic assistance. "Together we can make the perfect man: your looks, my voice." It is either the noblest of gestures or the most conniving. But does true love require seeking the beloved's happiness at all costs, or seeking the beloved?

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Gina Dalfonzo

One thing I love about Cyrano is that so often a defense of goodness and virtue is at the bottom of all his swagger. His attempt to break up the flirtation between the baker's wife and the musketeer, simply because he likes the baker and doesn't want him to get hurt, is a great example.

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