Broadway Reviews

Cyrano de Bergerac

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray - October 11, 2012

Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand. Translation by Ranjit Bolt. Directed by Jamie Lloyd. Set & costume design by Soutra Gilmour. Lighting design by Japhy Weideman. Sound design by Dan Moses Schreier. Music by Charlie Rosen. Hair & wig design by Amanda Miller. Movement by Chris Bailey. Fight Director Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum. Dialect Coach Kate Wilson. Cast: Douglas Hodge, Clémence Poésy, Patrick Page, with Max Baker, Bill Buell, Geraldine Hughes, Peter Bradbury, Jack Cutmore-Scott, Mikaela Feely-Lehmann, Andy Grotelueschen, Tim McGeever, Drew McVety, Frances Mercanti-Anthony, Okieriete Onaodowan, Samuel Roukin, Ben Steinfeld, introducing Kyle Soller.
Theatre: Roundabout Theatre Company at The American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes with one intermission
Schedule: Limited engagement through October 11.
Tuesday at 8 pm, Wednesday at 2 pm & 8 pm, Thursday at 8 pm, Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 2 pm & 8 pm, Sunday at 2 pm.
Ticket prices: $42 - $137
Tickets: roundabouttheatre.org

Cyrano de Bergerac
Douglas Hodge
Photo by Joan Marcus.

At what point does panache become so subtle that it vanishes altogether? Discovering the answer to this question seems to be the primary goal of Jamie Lloyd’s new production of Cyrano de Bergerac for Roundabout Theatre Company, which just opened at the American Airlines. Though for the most part a well-considered revival of Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play, it's one of the rare ones that barely even pays lip service to its high-flying history, and ratchets everything — except perhaps the most important thing — down to a recognizably human level. If the conceit ultimately passes muster, it doesn't manage the feat without losing some of the flair that's usually the most compelling reason to do Cyrano in the first place.

After all, its story about a man with a historically grand soul who's held back by his hysterically huge nose demands a certain size and bombast. You must accept that Cyrano is as capable of taking on 100 enemies at once as he is composing heart-wrenching love declarations on an instant's notice, or that his ability to match poetic verses to precisely timed rapier thrusts is not at all different from tilting against imaginary adversaries when he is literally moments away from death. The character isn't so much a collection of contradictions as he is a storing house for all aspects of the heroic ideal, and any actor taking him on must embrace that challenge and make it his own.

Douglas Hodge, a Tony winner for the 2010 revival of La Cage aux Folles, does just that here. He's equally at home in both the early comedy and the later piercing drama, bearing a knowing poise and stature that immediately identify him as some kind of an elemental force. Yet Hodge is not, and does not pretend to be, a young gun with everything to prove. Though the action covers more than 15 years that force Cyrano into two different periods of his life, Hodge begins by playing him older: looking 40 but behaving 15. This lends a surging, sympathetic aura to his longing for the beautiful young Roxane and his only perceived vehicle for realizing those affections, the handsome but too-youthful Christian she adores but who’s incapable of stringing together the words of affection Roxane so craves.

This same general approach was the one Kevin Kline took in the last Broadway revival five years ago. (Though Kline played much younger than his actual age.) Where the two takes differ is in their volume. Kline has for decades been able to control his hamminess when he’s wanted to, but he's always possessed the type of oversized personality Cyrano needs. Hodge does not have the same arsenal at his disposal. A more inherently rational and rationed actor, he processes each of Cyrano's actions through an intense psychological filter that makes them all look of natural proportions.

Cyrano de Bergerac
Clémence Poésy, Kyle Soller, and Douglas Hodge
Photo by Joan Marcus.

This pays some dividends, particularly in the balcony scene that finds Cyrano feeding Christian lines to speak to Roxane, or in the waxing half of the final act when he's about to be outed as the crafter of the words Roxane has loved for so long; and Soutra Gilmour’s Baroque-inspired sets and costumes, and Japhy Weideman’s quietly moody lighting, can’t overwhelm the proceedings. But it has a more muting effect everywhere else, leaving the play feeling like, well, a play rather than a chronicle of the skyscraping possibilities of the human spirit. That Cyrano de Bergerac works in spite of this, and works well, is a testament to Hodge's gifts and the work’s general strength, but it's difficult not to miss the juicier, more visceral take that promotes entertainment for entertainment’s sake.

Nearly everything else operates on the same low-key level. Clémence Poésy portrays Roxane as gorgeous and sophisticated yet naive, a combination that highlights and explains the musical yearnings she longs to satisfy without forcing you to wonder why it takes so long for her to discover Cyrano's hand in her new affair. Kyle Soller's Christian looks unusually youthful — perhaps 20 years old at most — and is sweetly dumb, which accounts nicely for his own romantic stumbles. (Too-sturdy and experienced-seeming Christians are a dime a dozen.) Effective as they both are, however, you never sense that they occupy a completely different plane of existence than Cyrano does — their all living in the same, sad world diminishes Cyrano a bit more still.

At least what they do works — two other elements of this production don't come anywhere close. The first is Ranjit Bolt’s translation. In keeping with the overall tone, it lacks any and all thrust and grandeur, making much of the dialogue sound so mundane that it's not clear why it’s still be in rhymed couplets. Combined with its tendency to shave numerous establishing bits and pieces from scenes, laughter is not inspired, something that only further pegs this Cyrano as one that's more timely than timeless.

Most damaging of all is Cyrano's nose. Though it's a crucial part of who he is, in the best productions it's a bit player. The lead actor integrates it into his personality, letting it define him as — but not restrict him to — either a man who's let his own insecurities cripple him or who's made the best of an unfortunate situation that's always been outside his control. Hodge is allowed neither opportunity. The nose he's forced to wear is a cross between a circus clown's face piece and a plunger handle — infected or malignant, perhaps, but absolutely not real. It convincingly sets him apart from those around him, but for matters of health rather than societal norms, applying another unnecessary layer of tragedy where none is required in the first place. Cyrano may battle multitudes, but Hodge shouldn't have to compete with his schnozz for the spotlight.

Alas, he has to compete with someone else as well. Patrick Page, as Cyrano’s chief rival, the Comte de Guiche, wields a delightfully blustery pomposity that wouldn't stand out much against a traditional Cyrano, but here is almost show-stealing. His color, caprice, and mellifluous speaking voice are such, in fact, that what he might do with Cyrano himself becomes a tantalizing thought. Page has the panache Cyrano lays claim to, and is allowed to use it. It’s not clear exactly why that is, but Page’s crackling presence is a welcome, and hardly distracting, antidote to the reasonable — and sometimes too-reasonable — show that surrounds him.


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