By Maia Nolan
Daily News correspondent
Cyrano’s Theatre Company kicked off its 15th season Friday night with “The Ladies of the Camellias,” Lillian Groag’s comedy about a hypothetical meeting between legendary actresses Sarah Bernhardt and Eleanora Duse.
While opening night had a few rough edges in need of smoothing, “Ladies” is a delightfully entertaining experience featuring fine performances from a number of local actors.
Things got off to a bit of a bumpy start Friday, with pacing problems plaguing the opening scene between Audrey Smith and Krista Schwarting. Smith’s M. Benoit is funny but a bit overplayed, particularly in contrast with Alexandre Dumas fils, played with humor, class, and just the right amount of bluster by Dick Reichman, who also directs.
The “ladies” of the title are played with a deliberate sense of drama and affectation by Julia Cossman and Tamar Bolkvadze. Cossman’s Madame Bernhardt is everything she should be: glamorous, ruthless and coolly self-centered. But it is Bolkvadze’s turn as a dry, icy Duse that brings down the house.
Bolkvadze exercises a great deal of restraint, keeping “La Duse” cold and detached, slipping out dryly funny lines in a respectable Italian accent and using her expressive eyes and hands to inject the character with the drama befitting a prima donna. Unfortunately, she also has a distracting habit of holding her arms in a way that accentuates the pregnant belly, which her costume was presumably designed to hide.
One of the highlights of “Ladies” is a scene in the first act between Erick Hayden and Ben Fauske, who play leading men to the divas. The two men are well-paired and so much fun to watch that Hayden’s patchy accent is forgivable. Hayden and Fauske’s interactions with their respective leading ladies in the second act are funny, too, but they play to their best against one another and it’s hard to keep from rooting for them to come out on top.
Dean Williams is hysterical as Ivan, the Russian revolutionary whose siege of the theater brings the entire cast onstage for most of the second act. Unfortunately, some of Williams’ best scenes are played with his back to the audience which doesn’t work, even in Cyrano’s small space.
Little snags cropped up now and then throughout the performance. At several times actors seemed to be groping for a line and the rhythm of the dialogue was occasionally uneven as a result.
The play is uproariously funny and Friday night’s audience seemed to laugh in all the right places. Sadly, that meant we also missed a fair number of lines that were delivered quickly without waiting for the laughter to subside. These are the kind of problems that will likely work themselves out as the run continues and the cast relaxes.
The night also marked the debut of Cyrano’s renovated café and updated house, complete with swanky new seats and an expanded light booth.
If “The Ladies of the Camellias” is any indication of what’s to come, Anchorage audiences can expect another season of standout performances at Cyrano’s.
Maia Nolan lives and writes in Anchorage.
If you go: "The Ladies of the Camellias" runs 7 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday until Feb. 18 at Cyrano’s Playhouse, 413 D St. Tickets cost $17.50. (263-2787, www.centertix.net)