Theatre Review by Matthew Murray - November 1, 2007
Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand. Translated and adapted by Anthony Burgess. Directed by David Leveaux. Set design by Tom Pye. Costume design by Gregory Gale. Lighting design by Don Holder. Sound design by David Van Tieghem. Hair & wig design by Tom Watson. Cast: Kevin Kline, Jennifer Garner, Daniel Sunjata. Also starring Max Baker, Euan Morton, Chris Sarandon, John Douglas Thompson, Concetta Tomei, Stephen Balantzian, Tom Bloom, Keith Eric Chappelle, MacIntyre Dixon, Davis Duffield, Amefika El-Amin, Peter Jay Fernandez, Kate Guyton, Ginifer King, Carman Lacivita, Piter Marek, Lucas Papaelias, Fred Rose, Leenya Rideout, Thomas Schall, Daniel Stewart Sherman, Alexander Sovronsky, Baylen Thomas, Nance Williamson.
Well, technically, there’s a visible dividing line between the two in the seam where Kline’s prominent pretend proboscis connects to his face. You have to strain to see it, but it does somewhat remind you that you are in fact watching two men, albeit a duo in perfect sync. Each is so careful about not overwhelming the other that this play becomes one of the most engaging and tightly choreographed one-man brother acts New York has seen in years.
The 60-year-old Kline moves and spars (with sword and word) with the agility of a man in his mid-20s. The violently impassioned Cyrano allows Kline to temper him down from a well-spoken and well-intentioned twit to an Everyman who’s rightly cognizant of his natural gifts. And both are so good at meting out their inner pain, usually through a particularly pointed insult or a pre-emptive attack on his own noticeably engorged facial feature, that you can never be entirely sure which of the two is more affecting.
All this wonderful confusion is a much-needed early source of rejuvenation in a Broadway season that hasn’t yet been party to many world-caliber performances. But watching Kline vanish so thoroughly into one of the theatre’s most deceptively common figures - especially given his withering turn as one of the most deceptively complex, King Lear, Off-Broadway this past spring, and the over-grand nature he brings to so many roles - is enough to renew your faith in the restorative powers of the stage’s greatest roles. This isn’t just Kline’s best work recently, it’s some of the best work of his career.
For all its charms, Cyrano de Bergerac has always been little more than the living equivalent of a pulpy (if admittedly tony) soap opera that entertains but leaves no lasting marks. Cyrano’s unrequited love for his cousin Roxane (Garner), the rift between her and the handsome but tongue-tied soldier Christian (Sunjata), the intervening war that begins as a test of manhood but comes to encompass this roiling world of romantic rhetoric, and even a 15-year gap in the action that artificially ages all the characters’ concerns are devices that instantly engage the heart but encourage few enduring ideas. (Anthony Burgess’s translation and adaption, which highlight the play’s foundational earthiness, also contribute.)
This makes Cyrano an ideal candidate for the chilly, studious interpretation Leveaux brings to nearly everything he directs. His musical revivals of Nine and Fiddler on the Roof weren’t so lucky, because they demand the unique immediacy of the theatre to provide their power. But a simple, theatrical paperback like Cyrano can withstand temporary blasts of frigidity, and might even benefit from it when there’s a force as melting as Kline at the middle of it all. In accordance, Tom Pye’s set is markedly low-rent (I’m positive Pye recycled one of the barren trees from his Fiddler for use in three of this production’s scenes), and Gregory Gale’s costumes, while plush, are strictly by the numbers.
So, for that matter, are Garner and Sunjata. Garner, who rose to fame as the star of ABC’s spy series Alias, is a radiant-looking Roxane, but lacks the nimble facility with language that would link her character to Cyrano; as it is, she seems a more appropriate match for the uninventively lingual Christian. Sunjata’s stage experience, including the lead in Take Me Out a few years back, gives him the prowess he needs to naturally navigate the verse-rich dialogue, but he comes across as too knowing and wooden to convince as a sensual man too stymied by love to make his true feelings heard.
Kline has no such trouble. Whether his Cyrano is rattling off a wry litany of ways to mock his nose, feeding words of devotion to the Roxane-wooing (and hapless) Christian in the famous balcony scene, or especially when revealing the depths of his feelings on the battlefield, he is in voice and body a whole and wholly involving creation. Both epic and intimate, his quest to avoid falling into the memory hole of history is unusually poignant, his penchant for courting fame or infamy - by tilting with 100 men by himself or even a single ruffled ruffian who dare speak against him in public - all too shattering and understandable.
In short, he has no lack of that mythical quality that plays such a crucial role in Cyrano de Bergerac: panache. Though the word refers directly to the snow-white plume attached to Cyrano’s hat, as the drama unreels it assumes the added meaning of being the physical manifestation of a man’s soul, the essential beauty that even death cannot claim. Whether that man in possession of it is Cyrano or Kline may never be entirely clear, but no matter. Both are equally worthy of bearing the term, wearing the hat, and reigning - if only for a while - as the Poet King of Broadway.