By Lauren Yarger
Aah, Cyrano. So eloquent and moving on paper, yet unable to express himself in the flesh. Much the same can be said of most theatrical productions of Edmond Rostand's 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac too, unfortunately. It's moving to read, but difficult to stage.
Roundabout Theatre Company is giving it a go, however, on Broadway with a translation by Ranjit Bolt and Douglas Hodge (Tony Award winner for La Cage aux Folles) in the title role. Clemence Poesy as Cyrano's love interest Roxane and Kyle Soller, as her mistaken love, Christian, both are making their Broadway debuts. Veteran Patrick Page (Spider-Man Turn off the Dark among many others) plays the married Compte de Giche, who also is smitten with Roxane's beauty.
The mistaken identities, sword fighting, poetry and undying love take place against a spectacular set (Soutra Gilmour, who also designs the lovely 17th-century inspired costumes) of colossal grey stoned edifices with arched windows and doorways. It looks great. The old-fashioned story kind of gets lost up there, however. Hodge brings a lot of energy to his Cyrano, but there isn't any depth to the character. He's boisterous and demands attention, but we don't feel the pain behind the man forced to cover his shame about his ugly appearance (he has a huge nose for those of you possibly not familiar with the story which I won't repeat here -- I'll refer you instead to the SparkNotes) with a bravado in battle and a razor-sharp wit as deadly as the sword he brandishes in battle.
Hodge is so forceful and full of energy sometimes, that it is hard to understand what he's saying in such rushed, loud tones. And some of the more famous lines form the play seem to get lost up there too in all the noise (Cyrano himself makes a loud, baning entrance through the house). Not only are battles raging, lights flashing (Japhy Weiderman, design), guns firing (Dan Moses Schreier, sound design) and swords crossing (fight direction is by Jacob Grigolia Rosenbaum), but Director Jamie Lloyd has some really annoying musicians strolling around playing music (by Charlie Rosen) under the dialogue too.
Famous lines get lost -- and they, in addition to the deep, self-sacrificing character of Cyrano, are what make this story so endearing. The poetry is rushed. It's not clear what Cyrano is doing at first when he lists a number of possible ways to say "large nose" better than what Valvert (Samuel Roukin) has managed to come up with when he refers to it as being "big."
Worse, we aren't aware of Cyrano's pain when he shows courage " better since" when he is rejected by Roxane in favor of Christian. I barely noticed when Roxane regretted having "loved but one man to lose him twice." Usually that has me breaking out the hankies. For some reason Lloyd has her deliver the line from several feet away from her love instead of at his side. Odd, since
Aah. Cyrano still can some court me with poetry under my balcony any time.
It's a fun-to-watch version for loving, longing eyes and some of actors in minor roles deliver some nice comedic moments. It's just not the moving words of Cyrano that I hoped would grope their way to find my ear.
Cyrano de Bergerac runs through Nov. 25 at American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42nd St., NYC. Tickets: 212-719-1300.
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-- God's name taken in vain