November 3, 2012

This "Cyrano de Bergerac" Doesn't Cut It

Nerds—even the homeliest ones—rule in today’s pop culture. They’re the stars of hit movies and TV shows. In real life, many are rich and envied. And the prettiest girls don’t even blink at hooking up with them. So maybe an old-fashioned romance like Cyrano de Bergerac in which the funny-looking guy ends up the loser has just outlived its time.

At least that’s what I found myself thinking as I watched the Roundabout Theatre Company’s pleasant but pallid revival of the play that is running at the American Airlines Theatre through Nov. 25.

The French poet and playwright Edmond Rostand wrote this paean to unrequited love in 1897. It played Broadway the very next year and there have been at least 15 major productions in the city since then—and that number doesn’t take into account the musical adaptations, including one composed by Victor Herbert.  

But Cyrano's popularity has been waning in recent years. The last time I saw it was back in 2007 when Kevin Kline played the title character who loves the beautiful Roxane but, believing that his big nose makes him too ugly to win her heart, helps a handsomer man woo her. 

Jennifer Garner, best known as the butt-kicking spy on the old ABC series "Alias", brought her fame and a contemporary approach to Roxane, playing her as a sword-wielding feminist. 

That production lasted just 56 performances. (Click here to read my review).

Now the British actor Douglas Hodge, who won a Tony for his portrayal of the cross-dressing Albin in the 2010 revival of La Cage Aux Folles, has climbed into the britches of a 17th century grenadier and donned Cyrano’s trademark feather-plumed hat. His Roxane is the French actress Clémence Poésy who is making her Broadway debut.

Call me heartless but I didn’t care what happened to either of them.   

Cyrano is supposed to have a swashbuckling swagger, which Hodge simply doesn’t have.  Hodge is a solid actor and he handles the play’s rhyming couplets and its low-humor moments well but his Cyrano is too meek and often gets lost in the crowd of soldiers onstage instead of commanding attention from them and from us theatergoers.

The only thing that really sets him apart is the ridiculously huge and fake-looking nose that’s been concocted for Hodge to wear.  Cyrano’s nose is obviously supposed to stand out but this snout is so outsized that seeing over it almost forces Hodge to cross his eyes.

Poésy’s Roxane seemed wimpy too.  And I’ve so totally forgotten Kyle Soller, who plays Christian, the dumb but good-looking guy who gets to get it on with Roxane, that I don’t even remember what he looks like.

Meanwhile, Jamie Lloyd’s direction is far too busy and messy (click here to read an interview with the director and his star).  Sure, it’s good for the members of the ensemble to play individual characters but Lloyd, a young Brit who spent the past three years as associate director at London’s Donmar Warehouse, should have found a way to rein in all the mugging.

But there is one saving grace: the performance by Patrick Page as Comte de Guiche, the vain nobleman who is also in love with Roxane (click here to read an interview in which the actor talks about his thoughts on love).  

The count is supposed to be the villain of the piece but Page has a plummy baritone voice and a winning stage presence. He’s not exactly a nerd but in the real world, Roxane would just ride off with him. Or at least that’s what I wanted to do.


Anonymous said...

I absolutely love your blog! I read it all the time. Keep up the good work. - ThePlaybill Collector

jan@broadwayandme said...

Many thanks for the very kind words!