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A CurtainUp Review
Cyrano de Bergerac
Based on the life of Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac, poet, playwright, swordsman and freethinker with the extremely long nose, Rostand's 1897 romantic drama presents quite a challenge for its lead actor, who is a jester, a soldier, a lover and finally, a martyr. The role of Cyrano has attracted the likes of Jose Ferrer and Gerard Depardieu.
The last time Cyrano de Bergerac was seen at a major New York City venue was in 1997 when Frank Langella directed and starred in his own abridged adaptation at the Laura Pels Theater. With Cyrano absent from Broadway for a decade, it's no wonder many theatergoers are eager to see what Kline will do with the role. Fortunately, neither Kline nor the production disappoint.
With David Leveaux at the helm, Cyrano is half epic, half farce. The exaggerated language is met with exaggerated gesture. Musicians move freely onstage, as one sees so often in current theater.
The play begins as pure comedy. The scene in which Cyrano feeds Christian the lines with which he woos Roxanne is particularly hilarious, with both Kline and Sunjata engaging in slapstick worthy of The Three Stooges.
In lesser hands, the broad comedy of the first act, when Cyrano is all bluster and braggadocio, proud of his nose and eager to fight anyone who gets in his way, might make for a somewhat difficult transition to the second act, when surrounded by his starving cadets fighting a losing battle with the Spanish, Cyrano pines over his lost love, Roxanne. But thanks to Kline's formidable acting, Cyrano's transformation is utterly believable. And in the final scene when the old soldier makes his last entrance, Kline summons up all his classical experience to deliver a hero of Shakespearean proportions.
Garner too shows great skill in developing her character, who starts off as an impulsive, immature, romantic young girl and ends up a stately, subdued long-suffering widow carrying the blood-stained letter of her dying lover forever close to her heart.
Cyrano de Bergerac is the kind of play that has something for the most diverse tastes. It's filled with sword fighting, broad humor, biting irony and tender emotions. Despite this production's epic proportions, great attention has been paid to making every detail effective. Actors climb up ladders and sweep down stairs. Act II begins with a massive clap of thunder. As Cyrano declares his love, the last, blood-red leaves of autumn fall gently onto Roxanne's dress.
No matter how much a translator updates the language or a director tinkers with the staging, Rostand's century-old play will inevitably appear somewhat dated. After all, there's nothing wrong with Cyrano's nose that a little surgery couldn't cure. And are modern women really won over by pretty words? But by embracing Cyrano's old-fashioned values and dated fashions, a production can take the audience into another world and a distant time, which perhaps only existed on the printed page and in men and women's imagination.
Editor's Note: Here are links to some other Cyrano's we've seen on stage, including a clever modern musical in which Cyrano is a high school student whose nose is mostly a case of the typical teenager's tendency to be self-conscious about a pimple, let alone a nose that isn't really a disfigurement as Rostand's Cyrano was.
Cyrano de Bergerac (Roundabout Revival with Frank Langella, 1997)
Cyrano de Bergerac (Berkshires 2006)
Cyrano de Bergerac set in 19th Century (London 2004)
Calvin Berger-- Cyrano as a musical set in a modern high school (Berkshires-07)