NEW YORK—Douglas Hodge takes center stage with a brilliant performance as the swashbuckling title character in Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play “Cyrano de Bergerac,” now being revived on Broadway by the Roundabout Theatre Company.
Set in France during 1640–1655, Cyrano is, as he says, a “jack of all trades, master of none.” His occupations include rogue, master swordsman, soldier (a member of the Cadets of Gascoyne, a company of guards from Southern France), theater critic, satirist, and above all, free sprit.
He is envied by most who know him, even his enemies. Yet there’s a price that comes with dancing to one’s own tune: Cyrano often offends the very people who could aid him financially. As a result, he is constantly broke. Also, due to his vast sense of honor and deep pride, he refuses to accept help when offered.
Cyrano’s other major attribute is his rather large nose, and woe to anyone who dares mention it. Due to this nose and the way Cyrano sees himself because of it, he has never declared his deep love for his young cousin Roxane (Clémence Poésy). Just when he is about to do so, Roxane falls in love with Christian (Kyle Soller), a young man who has just joined Cyrano’s regiment.
Christian also loves Roxane but lacks the ability to express his love poetically. Wanting to see Roxane happy at any cost, Cyrano becomes Christian’s ghost writer, giving him verses of love poems he himself has written, which Christian passes off as his own.
Roxane has another suitor, a powerful nobleman and Cyrano’s military superior, Comte de Guiche (Patrick Page). When de Guiche finds Roxane has been stringing him along in order to keep Christian safe, he angrily orders Cyrano’s regiment to the battlefields.
While the Rostand tale presents a powerful story, which combines action, bravado, and romantic melodrama, the text can be a bit unwieldy. Fortunately, the translation by Ranjit Bolt sparkles with wit and passion, much of the dialogue delivered in rhyming couplets.
Plus, the direction by Jamie Lloyd is spot on, putting energy into even the smallest moments and making the entire play feel less overdone and ungainly than it might.
Among the high directorial points are Hodge’s first entrance; a romantic balcony scene involving Roxane, Cyrano, and Christian—which takes on a slapstick air at times; and a battle sequence, which effortlessly shifts between quiet boredom, romantic tension, and full-fledged action.
Credit must also go to sound designer Dan Moses Schreier in the battle scene, and the work of fight director Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum throughout.
Hodge does a masterful job as Cyrano, a fellow always ready with a razor sharp wit and trusty sword to take on his enemies, be they one or a hundred. Hodge’s Cyrano is a bit of an attention seeker, loving to be the center of conversation, awe and adoration, so long as no one gets too close.
Hodge is also able to make the character a tragic figure, suffering the pangs of unrequited love and terrible loneliness. He is often resigned to dealing with this situation in silence.
While it’s sometimes been the practice to portray Christian as little more than a handsome, empty-headed individual, such is not the case here. Soller gives a portrayal of a young man filled with passion and desire but paralyzed with nervous inexperience when it comes to romance.
Lacking the necessary verbal and literary style to woo Roxane, Christian is more than happy to have Cyrano’s help in that regard. It’s not until Christian realizes that Cyrano is also in love with Roxane that he realizes it’s better to be loved for who one actually is, rather than who they are perceived to be.
Poésy is okay as Roxane, though the character never feels three-dimensional until the final scenes. Much of the story shows her as a young woman in love with the idea of being in love; and in seeing love as she always imagined it, not how it could actually be.
As such, her early romantic scenes are a bit stilted as the character seems more to be reciting lines and feelings she’s heard and read about, rather than actually experiencing what love truly means.
Paige cuts an imposing figure as de Guiche, someone wearing an air of authority as if he were born to it. A scoundrel and schemer, he still has a spark of decency, thus making him someone one can empathize with, if not totally root for.
Standouts among the supporting cast are Bill Buell as Ragueneau, a pastry chef turned footman, and Max Baker as Cyrano’s friend, Le Bret.
While not a perfect production, this “Cyrano” has a lot going for it: a hero with a heart of gold, a love-struck couple, guns, swords, battle, heartbreak and a moral lesson about the importance of truthfulness where love is concerned—all in all, not bad.
Also in the cast is Jack Cutmore-Scott, Tim McGeever, Frances Mercanti-Anthony, Geraldine Hughes, Samuel Roukin, Peter Bradbury, Andy Grotelueschen, Ben Steinfeld, Drew McVety, Okieriete Onaodowan, and Mikaela Feely-Lehmann.
‘Cyrano de Bergerac’
Roundabout Theatre Company
American Airlines Theatre
227 West 42nd Street
Tickets: 212-719-1300 or visit www.roundabouttheatre.org
Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes
Closes: Nov. 25
Judd Hollander is the New York correspondent for the London publication The Stage.
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