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Philip Dorian


“Cyrano” gets a makeover (and a nose job)

Cyrano (Peter Dinklage) chasing Montfleury (Scott Strangland) off the stage. Photo by Monique Carlini.

Through December 22 at The Daryl Roth Theatre, 101 East 15th Street, NYC.
Tues-Fri at 8pm; Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 2 & 7:30pm.
For tickets (from $107): 800-745-3000 or at www.Ticketmaster.com
Reviewed by Philip Dorian

A new off-Broadway adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s “Cyrano de Bergerac,” titled simply “Cyrano,” plays fast and loose with the 19th-Century playwright’s masterpiece. Adapted and directed by Erica Schmidt, whose schoolgirl-cast “Mac Beth” was a stunner, the New Group production runs through December 13 at the Daryl Roth Theatre in Union Square. Incorporating musical passages by the composer and lyricists for the Grammy Award-winning rock band The National and featuring Peter Dinklage in the title role, New Group’s “Cyrano” arrived amid high expectations. Notwithstanding its impressive credentials, however, the whole emerges as less than the sum of its parts.

The casting of Dinklage as the man who considers himself unlovable because of a distinctive physical feature is at once inspired and potentially exploitative. As acted and directed here, the latter notion is not a factor. Cyrano’s defining characteristic, his outsized schnoz, informs both his angst and his bravura. With limited mentions of his nose, here Dinklage’s non-prosthetic own, and the barest of references to his diminutive stature, this Cyrano’s tragic flaw is neither nose nor height, but the character’s emotional, not physical, sense of unworthiness. Dinklage’s is a self-assured portrayal of a brave and creative man constrained, paradoxically, by himself, by his surface appearance. This Cyrano’s courage in the face of danger is unquestioned. But with the woman he adores in secret, not so. “C’mon, man,” I wanted to shout, “you can do it. Tell her!”

We learn early that the pompous Count De Guiche (Ritchie Coster, subtly menacing) has the hots for Roxane, played by Jasmine Cephas Jones, gorgeous in a full-skirted red gown but constrained by Roxane’s shallowness. She in turn moons over Christian (Blake Jenner), a callow cadet in Cyrano’s regiment. Cyrano, of course, yearns for Roxane, who enlists him as Christian’s protector.

Cyrano becomes the inarticulate fellow’s alter ego, ghost-writing his love letters and even wooing Roxane for him from the shadows in stage literature’s second-most-famous balcony scene.

Christian (Blake Jenner) and Roxane (Jasmine Cephas Jones) kiss. And Cyrano? If only. Photo by Monique Carlini.

All that is intact, but Ms. Schmidt’s ‘translation’ from Rostand’s exquisite (if some overblown) verse into modern vernacular leaves much to be desired. If it were wittier or more consistently down-market (as is Cyrano’s dismissal of lousy actor Montfleury with “Who will defend this shit?”), sure. But the prosaic middle-ground is uninspired.

As are the musical interludes. Mostly non-melodic and without rhyme, the numbers tend to slow the action without adding insight. (An exception is a haunting number with each doomed cadet sending a last letter to a loved one.) And, based on this sampling, Dinklage proves less of a singer than an actor. His deep-bass tone works well when bombastic is called for, but there’s little emotion or variety when set to the lackluster music’s dull lyrics. It also strains the concept that Roxane does not differentiate Cyrano’s voice from Christian’s until, abruptly, at the very end.

Among the missing are Cyrano’s impromptu duel-poem (“Now as I end the refrain…”); Roxane’s battlefield Care-package delivery; and Cyrano’s delirium-fueled fencing with Falsehood, Prejudice and Treachery. What is present is a Cyrano whose ‘difference’ is as plain as the nose on your face. To Peter Dinklage’s credit, the obvious disappears into the internal. “C’mon, Cyrano; speak up!” If only.

As if to mitigate the play’s French origin, Roxanne is spelled with a double-n; the buffoon actor Montfleury is re-dubbed Montgomery; and Christian is pronounced KRIS-chun, which is jarring on a couple levels. In 2009 the Stratford Festival in Ontario staged a version, that combined Anthony Burgess’s English translation with portions of the original French text. I understand precious little French, but believe me: it was rhapsodic.

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