Reviewed by Carlos Stafford, The Model Critic
Douglas Hodge explodes onto the stage and delivers an athletic, braveheart performance in a new robust production of the great Cyrano de Bergerac, newly opened at the Roundabout Theatre Company on 42nd St.
Armed with impeccable costumes, flashing sword play, Edmond Rostand’s rhymed couplets, inspired direction, and Cyrano’s plumed hat, Hodge delivers with swaggering panache.
But of course, his Himalayan nose proceeds him, this colossal peninsula, this mighty stalactite, this ample perch for a bird–his nose arrives before he does. But just as Cyrano’s nose has been his lifelong burden, it too has become his unwitting source of strength through his own separateness. For who is Cyrano, if not one of literature’s most inspiring romantic heroes–a lover, a poet, a fighter, a wit, a knight, all rolled into one. A man standing on the social fringe, unloved by his own mother; a man who has the integrity, humor and courage to stand audaciously alone, free and independent, to boldly speak truth to power.
For all of his virtues, Cyrano will never miraculously transform from frog to prince and dine at the banquet of love. He imagines love, he divines love, he poetically rhapsodizes. But he keeps his heart quiet for the one he has always loved, Roxanne, and instead uses his profundity and wit as weapons to satirize the powerful, the false and the pompous. He lives his life through word and deed, duels with imposters, and defends his friends. He is loved by his fellow soldiers and poets, but one must never mention his nose, or be met with forty inches of Toledo steel.
We know Cyrano through film, stage, and literature, and it remains a work to be revisited. As we see, the parallels to human nature are constant throughout the ages, and presently, as America struggles with its own identity crisis, of who we are as a nation, inspirational, ethical, and moral pieces as these will always be metaphorically welcomed. Yes, it can be corny and fatuous to a skeptic, but at heart, a very poignant and universal fairy tale for adults.
Cyrano is secretly in love with Roxanne from a distance. Roxanne, however, has seen a new recruit, Christian, and falls madly in love with his good looks. She asks Cyrano to a secret meeting while Cyrano’s heart races, thinking she will finally declare her love for him. Instead she tells Cyrano that she loves Christian, and asks Cyrano to protect him from the other troops. When Christian finds out of Roxanne’s love he implores Cyrano to write letters to Roxanne since he lacks the wit and charm. Cyrano agrees and Roxanne falls hopelessly for his romantic, poetic words. In the famous balcony scene, Cyrano speak eloquently for him as well; his fine sequestered words wins a kiss for Christian. He then watches bitterly as they later marry.
DeGuiche, the nobleman and captain of the brigade also loves Roxanne but is thwarted. He represents everything Cyrano despises. Richly outfitted, socially favored, and pretentious, DeGuiche represents the vices of aristocracy, and is played wonderfully by Patrick Page. When DeGuiche finds he has been outwitted, he quickly dispatches Christian to the front lines in the pending war with Spain, so the marriage can never be consummated.
Roxanne, played by Clemence Poesy, is a pretty and elegant presence, but whose character is mostly a catalyst in the play. Next to Hodge, who delivers his lines with power, bold inflections and style, her lines sounded mono-tonal and inaudible at times.
The Direction by Jamie Lloyd (Old Vic, National, Royal Court productions) was brisk, fast paced and full of surprises. Ragueneau’s (Bill Buell) bakery shop scene, with five apprentice bakers at their tables was hilarious, contrasted to the quiet convent scene at the end, years later, presented a wide range of emotional energy and meaning.
Visually, the sets and costumes by Soutra Gilmour were impeccable. The costumes from the early 17th Century were strong, gutsy, and added a vivid, authentic atmosphere. Cyrano in his pantaloons, blouse, waist coat, sword and hat was perfect, as well as DeGuiche in his finery. Soldiers, friends, and nuns added to the look, and underscored the fine ensemble acting.
At its core, this is a play about one man, Cyrano. Cyrano has no property, no family, no fortune, but speaks out against falsehoods, is loyal to Roxanne to the cathartic end. Unprotected, he dangerously has many enemies as he exposes sham and deceit. Edmond Rostand wrote the play in the late !9th Century, about a Cyrano de Bergerac who actually existed, a friend and contemporary of Moliere; however Rostand”s Cyrano is only loosely related. The play is about beauty, love, loyalty, endurance, and character and must be savored and reflectively appreciated. This production hits its marks on the nose.
by Edmond Rostand
American Airlines Theatre