|Douglas Hodge and Clémence Poésy star in Cyrano de Bergerac|
Many famous actors have had their fling at playing Edmond Rostand’s hero Cyrano de Bergerac, but the best one I’ve ever seen, hands down, is Christopher Plummer in the 1973 Broadway musical Cyrano. In his second go-round with the role – he’d sampled it as a young actor at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Canada, the same season he played Hamlet – he was mesmerizing, and hilarious. (Runner-up would be a tie between José Ferrer in the 1950 film version and Steve Martin in the updated 1987 movie Roxanne, which is my favorite version of the material.) The most recent Broadway Cyranos have been disappointments: first Kevin Kline in 2007 and now the British actor Douglas Hodge, in the new production at the Roundabout. Kline made the bizarre choice to underplay the role of the seventeenth-century wit, poet and soldier, who, feeling he can’t court the girl he adores, his cousin Roxane, because of the size of his nose, provides her handsome suitor Christian with the words to win her heart. The flamboyant Cyrano is surely one part you should never underplay. Hodge doesn’t make that mistake, and physically, at least, he meets the challenges of the character’s celebrated panache, especially in the first-act scene where he engages in swordplay with the disdainful Valvert (Samuel Roukin) while he composes a poem. (He completes the last line as he deals his opponent the triumphal thrust.) It’s Hodges’s vocal work that comes considerably short of the mark. He does well with the famous speech to the dullard Valvert, anticipating the swordfight, in which he demonstrates a dozen ways in which a man of imagination might approach the matter of insulting his nose. Hodge has a voice like scraped stone, and he knows how to use it cleverly. But this Cyrano is rendered in verse, yet Hodge insists on playing against the meter. Worse, he has a fondness for delivering his lines in a sentimental tremolo that cuts Cyrano’s romantic stoicism. He doesn’t appear to have understood the character – or else (as I suspect) he’s simply indulging himself.
|Samuel Roukin and Douglas Hodge|
The English director Jamie Lloyd has staged the play beautifully, and the designs (sets and costumes by Soutra Gilmour, lighting by Japhy Weideman) are certainly worthy of the material. The set is a tiered stone façade that stands in easily for all of the various environments: when the play goes to war with Cyrano, Christian and their Gascon comrades in act four (just after intermission), it slides forward and becomes a bridge with archways underneath, and for the final act it rolls almost all the way downstage, autumn leaves drift down from the flies, and suddenly we’re at the convent where Roxane has retired since Christian’s death in battle. The scene shifts are tremendous fun. Impressive as the battle scene is, Lloyd is at his most resourceful at the convent, where he gets depth from the triple arches and varied height from the ingenious positioning of a chair and a bench.
Lloyd has assembled a first-rate ensemble for the supporting parts (the standouts are Patrick Page as the Comte de Guiche, perhaps the only melodramatic villain in the canon who mellows and deepens toward the end, and Max Baker as Cyrano’s best friend Le Bret). The problem is the three leads. In David Leveaux’s 2007 production the exquisite film actress Jennifer Garner played Roxane, and she was so uncomfortable with the language that I was embarrassed for her. This time around the role goes to Clémence Poésy, who was Fleur in the Harry Potter pictures, and she isn’t much of an improvement. She’s a Frenchwoman affecting an English accent, and her thin, tense voice sounds oddly affected, as if she were trying to pluck the words out of her throat with pincers. Kyle Soller plays Christian as a dolt, which is different from playing him as an earnest lover who doesn’t possess the language to woo the elegant, educated lady of his dreams. (Daniel Sunjata struck exactly the right balance in 2007.) This Cyrano is enjoyable, but too often you receive its virtues through the filter of this inadequate trio.
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