Reviewed by James Karas
Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac is justly famous for bringing to the stage a captivating idea. An ugly man, Cyrano, falls in love with a beautiful woman, Roxanne; she falls in love with a handsome man, Christian. The poetry that brings the woman and the handsome man together belongs to the ugly man.
The play is not very good by most standards but is does contain at least two theatrically supreme scenes: the balcony scene and the final act when Roxanne realizes identity of her supreme lover and the person under her balcony. In between there are many crowd scenes with a lot of commotion and yelling to little effect. There are some quieter moments but without the balcony and final scene Cyrano de Bergerac would be a dud.
The Roundabout Theatre Company has staged a disappointing production of the play at the American Airlines Theatre in New York. Any production that lacks a first-rate Cyrano and Roxanne is doomed to failure. This production has Douglas Hodge as Cyrano and Clémence Poésy as Roxanne.
Cyrano is a man of many talents. He is a swashbuckler, a poet, a philosopher, a fearless soldier and a man of uncompromising principals. In his own word, he has “panache” which should include style, flair, flamboyance and a quality that sets him apart from ordinary mortals. He does have one defect: he has a huge nose that makes him ugly and, in his opinion, completely unattractive to women.
What does Hodge give us? He does a fine job as a swordsman and the poetry given to him by Rostand qualifies him as a wordsmith. His great scene comes when he woos Roxanne from under her balcony, disguised as the handsome Christian. Here he unleashes so much passion and intense emotion, that it would melt steel. The cool Roxanne is moved to pieces as she exclaims that she trembles, weeps and burns with love for “him.”
The problem is that all of those emotions are in the words of Rostand (in a new translation by Ranjit Bolt) and not in the voices of Hodge and Poésy. Poésy does provide some emotional fervor and statuesque beauty (especially in the final scene) but she lacks the intensity that would make a convincing Roxanne.
Hodge has no poetry in his voice or passion in his heart. First of all he lacks the “panache” that he is so proud of. He moves awkwardly and is unable to strike a heroic stance. Even in the final scene when he is reading his last letter to Roxanne, he twitches and squirms when he should be delivering his words with searing intensity.
The crowd scenes from the opening in the Hotel de Bourgogne, to the scenes in the bakery and especially at the war front in Arras do generate energy and noise. There is some humour, not all intentional. Kyle Soller as Christian is a handsome dunce but his poetic illiteracy does not stand out because Cyrano himself is not very poetic. The rest of the cast from Patrick Page’s Comte de Guiche to Bill Buell’s Ragueneau to Geraldine Hughes’s Duenna do at least a good job competent but the play does not depend on them nor are they enough to make the production memorable.
In short, the evening simply lacked panache.
Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand opened on October 11 and played until November 25, 2011, at the American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42nd Street, New York, N.Y. www.roundabouttheatre.org/