by Margaret Croyden
Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostamd
Translated and Adapted by Anthony Burgess
Directed by David Leveaux
Staring Kevin Kline
Richard Rodgers Theater
West 46 Street
Reviewed by Margaret Croyden November 2, 2007
Edmond Rostand's 19th century classic play "Cyrano de Bergerac" has always attracted stars and over the years many have tried their hand at it. In the past Jose Ferrer played it on stage and screen, and even the French leading man Gerard Depardieu stared in the original French version. That this old melodramatic play should once again be staged in the 21st century, and that the producers would subject the audience to watch it (for three hours) in a huge, freezing, air conditioned theater is indeed a mystery. Are we supposed to take this enterprise seriously?
Reviving old musicals and old classics has become the rule lately. Some have been well done (see the current revival of "Pygmalion"), but then its Bernard Shaw who is the star. In this "Cyrano" the star is the ever working Kevin Kline who seems to adore acting in the classics, (especially Shakespeare). And undoubtedly is responsible for this revival. Not too long ago, his "King Lear" and his Falstaff were was not received favorably, but that has not stopped him. One wonders why he doesn't stick to what he is good at: straight drama, droll comedy, farce and let it go at that. O.K. he should be admired for trying. But sitting through this production was a trial.
By now the plot of "Cyrano" is well known: a great swordsman and a gifted poet, with a huge nose, is in love with the beautiful Roxane who, he thinks, would never accept him because of his looks. Ironically, Roxane falls for Cyrano's comrade, Christian, a strikingly handsome man, but she is unaware that he is a dumb apple. In an act of sacrifice, Cyrano gives his comrade his poetic love letters to recite to Roxane so that she will believe he has the soul of a poet.
Kevin Kline tries hard to speak the poetry as if it were colloquial modern day English despite the obviously clever verse adapted by Anthony Burgess. In so doing, Kline destroys the inherent poetic quality of this tale. Despite perfect diction and a fine voice, Kline comes across as colorless, even bland. What is missing is the grandeur and panache of the French swordsman, necessary qualities needed to give life to the character.
To his credit Kline has an agile, excellent body, and he knows it; his movements are very showy. As a great swordsman--the fights are well choreographed--the audience is delighted to see Kevin Kline cleverly dueling and jumping around all over the stage. Which he does continually.
The director, David Leveaux, has staged everything from Tom Stoppard to Harold Pinter, not to mention O'Neill and Tennessee Williams. So one would expect a finely skilled production, though he ruined the great "Fiddler on the Roof," by anglicizing it. Maybe it's not so surprising then that "Cyrano" is a disappointment. With a huge cast who fight, drink, eat and fornicate on stage, his direction is all too obvious. Subtlety is not his thing. The cast jumps around shouting, running, falling, fighting, and acting up a storm. The stage is cluttered with activity. O.K. they are a rowdy bunch; we get the idea; it is telegraphed to us ad infinitum. Finally, the production with its ostentatious, overacting, and overly lavish costumes almost looks like a kitschy musical.
Roxane (Jennifer Garner) the woman Cyrano loves, is pretty enough; she doesn't do anything wrong, but she lacks stage presence. She has been hired, one supposes, because of her successful TV credits and second rate movies. It has become normal for producers to recruit film and television actors for important roles these days. While actors may be good in a TV series, or in a movie, they seem to fade on stage. (Remember Julia Roberts).
The surprising part of this production is that it was directed so conventionally despite Kline making his entrance from the balcony and jumping onto the set--a feat repeatedly used in other productions. Wouldn't it be refreshing if old classics were revived by those who have new ideas about staging them?
MARGARET CROYDEN's recent book is "Conversations with Peter Brook, 1970-2000" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
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