Edmond Rostand’s 1897 verse romance is hardly a model of naturalism, but I’ve always been miffed by sleek, idealized Cyranoses. The title character is famously cursed with an outsize, misshapen schnoz. And yet, from the earliest portraits of French legend Coquelin to José Ferrer last century and Kevin Kline just five years ago, Cyrano’s deformity has appeared absurdly graceful and tapered. Not so with Douglas Hodge’s earthy, florid, all-too-human Cyrano: His olfactory organ looks like a moldy bread roll stuck in the middle of his face. Birth defect? Skin disease? Battle scar? You cannot ignore this pitted, lumpy protuberance, and its very vileness increases one’s respect for the soldier-poet’s much-ballyhooed “panache.”
The production that surrounds Hodge is a buoyant, eye-filling delight, benefitting from Jamie Lloyd’s vigorous staging and a highly playable translation by Ranjit Bolt set in rhyming couplets. Even if Clémence Poésy and Kyle Soller—as love object Roxane and handsome but tongue-tied Christian—don’t rise to Hodge’s level (she’s a bit vacant; he’s too foppish), they work. Both are secondary to Cyrano, anyway, and Hodge plays the part to the hilt, roaring, swashing and tossing off burnished witticisms, but also sounding darker notes of doubt and self-loathing. Patrick Page, in the small but crucial role of Comte de Guiche, adds his practiced suavity and seigneurial swag ger. Max Baker always delivers, and he’s touching as Cyrano’s constant ally, Le Bret.
All in all, the 17th-century world of Cyrano de Bergerac—from an inn-yard theater to a pastry shop and to a northern battlefield—is conjured up by Soutra Gilmour’s picturesque, vine-wrapped bi-level set. Japhy Weideman’s lighting errs on the side of dimness, but he marshals fascinating shadows. Of course, the biggest shades are cast by the various worthy actors who have assayed the titular ill-favored Gascon. For me, the robust, passionate and poignant Hodge beats them by a nose.—David Cote
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