When we think of Edmond Rostand, normally we assume that the author of Cyrano de Bergerac lived in Cyrano’s time. Not so. Rostand lived until 1918 and wrote much more, including the equally timeless Chantecler, one of his last works, widely acclaimed back then. So we can be grateful to Pandora’s Box Theatre for letting us experience it.
The company, in its second season, says its mission is to present newly adapted works, “to unearth the passion, humor and truth of human relationships.” This dovetails perfectly: Although Rostand, in Chantecler, was writing about birds and animals, when you dig deeper, you could discover that he was satirizing human behavior.
You probably won’t get that in this new adaptation by Pandora artistic co-director Lofty Durham. But you needn’t get it. Instead you’ll discover a charming, well-directed, amusingly light version, telling the story for its own sake. Most of the show’s 15 performances, in fact, are designed to appeal to families. Fortunately, Pandora’s Box Theatre does not play down to youngsters, respecting their intelligence and that of the people accompanying them. Kids can enjoy the cleverly, albeit simply costumed creatures and the fun; adults can appreciate the amusing characters and the actors’ cartoon-like credibility.
Chantecler concerns the rooster of that name, the pride of the barnyard. He believes that the sun rises and sets at his beck and call, yet remains insecure, fearing that he may falter and fail. Creatures of the night believe in that power too, and want to destroy him so darkness can rule. Then, from outside the farm, the Golden Pheasant appears. She and Chantecler could fly away together, into the wide world. But first he must find courage and strength.
Rostand’s original contains about 100 characters. This production has 22, played by 10 humans. Among them, Phil Powell brings out charming, lovable scruffiness as Patou the Dog. Parag S. Gohel and Nate Jedrzejewski stand out too, as goofy fighting cocks, an awestruck pigeon and a self-important turkey.
Durham has somewhat contemporized the language without pushing too hard. He’s also managed a few eloquent moments of dialogue. His “R-rated” version, offered four times, doesn’t differ much, with just a few nasty words and a couple of mild double entendres.
The family version does everything better.
Chantecler continues through Aug. 12. New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square East, North Side. 412- 576-1500 or www.pandorasboxtheatre.org