Like Romeo and Juliet, Edmund Rostand’s enduring 1897 story of Cyrano de Begerac (loosely inspired by playwright/novelist Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac) is an oft repeated/reinterpreted tale. The story has been made into operas, ballets, and film.
Brilliant at all he does but disfigured by an enormous nose, otherwise flamboyant Cyrano is deeply in love with beautiful Roxanne, a woman (friend) with whom he assumes he doesn’t have a chance. When she fixes on handsome Christian from afar, Cyrano finds himself writing poetic love letters for the inarticulate soldier and, pouring out his own heart, winning the lady’s – for a lesser man. Her increasing adoration is (illusory) respite.
Despite Cyrano’s best efforts, Christian dies at war. Roxanne retreats to a convent where the secretly ill, poverty stricken Cyrano (she’s oblivious) visits her weekly until his death. Twice bereft, she learns the truth only then.
Peter Dinklage is marvelous. When the character’s nose is mentioned in dialogue, he pauses just a second before saying the word “nose” so we equate diminutive height as his handicap. The famous tit-for-tat (insult for insult) speeches have been cut to avoid making further changes. From the moment the actor enters preceded by that deep, resonant voice, powerful, focused presence rivets.
This is the romantic, swashbuckling, sympathetic hero made wretched by unrequited love. We believe every minute. Each small wince, withheld speech, and outright lie is palpably agonizing. Despite being accustomed to cameras capturing close-up emotion, Dinklage keeps reaction nuanced. His whole body is in tune with the moment. That the actor can sing only passably is frankly irrelevant. Oh, to see him play Shakespeare!
Also worth watching are Ben Kingsley look-alike Ritchie Coster as another of Roxanne’s suitors, Count De Guiche, Nehal Joshi’s baker/poet Ragueneau, Grace McLean as Marie/Mother Marthe, and the company. Movement/ choreography by Jeff and Rick Kuperman is clever, compelling and beautifully executed.
Jasmine Cephas Jones’s Roxanne is graceless. The performer has an abrasive pop voice and is not for a moment credible as inspiring or inspired. Played by Blake Jenner, Christian is believably shallow, but surface depiction doesn’t benefit the piece. The purported lovers inappropriately seem as if they’re in a contemporary situation. Christian’s exclaiming “Wha-hut?!” is extremely regrettable.
Except for a few too-modern phrases, Erica Schmidt’s adaptation works well. The arc of the story remains, as do pivotal scenes. Mimed vignettes (sometimes synchronized) featuring bakers (Cyrano meets Roxanne in the back room of Ragueneau’s bakery) and nuns are splendid as is Schmidt’s vivid manifestation of war. If only her young leads fit the production.
Curiously, incidental music is evocative while song music is weak. Mostly prose, lyrics are unlyrical and rarely illuminating. Only a number about loved ones left behind stands out.
Scenic design by Christine Jones and Amy Rubin serves the production with skill and imagination.
Tom Broecker’s costume design suits every character except Roxanne, whose apparel is thoroughly unflattering.
Jeff Croiter (lighting) and Dan Moses Schreier (sound) create an affecting battlefield.
Photos by Monique Carboni
Opening: Josh A. Dawson, Ritchie Coster, Grace McLean, Peter Dinklage, Blake Jenner and Jasmine Cephas Jones
The New Group presents
Adapted by Erica Schmidt
Music- Aaron Dessner/Bryce Dessner
Lyrics-Matt Berninger/Carin Besser
Directed by Erica Schmidt
Daryl Roth Theatre