Monday, December 2, 2019


Eclecticism can be a great thing in the theatre. When the Public last staged William Shakespeare's Cymbeline in Central Park, the set was covered with reproductions of Western art from nearly every period, and when each scene felt like it took place in a new milieu, that felt about right, given that Shakespeare seems to mix vastly different settings and periods in a single play.

When Edmond Rostand wrote Cyrano de Bergerac, however, he set the play squarely in France of the 17th century. The play creates a singular vision of the world, not as it actually was in the 1600s, but as Rostand dreamed it could have been. Not every production of Cyrano de Bergerac needs to be set in 17th-century France, and a production placed in the time of Rostand's own fin de siècle Third Republic might work out charmingly, but the play does imply a single, unified setting.

That's what makes the eclecticism of Erica Schmidt's new musical adaptation, dubbed simply Cyrano, so oddly intriguing. Where are we? Or more precisely, when are we? The costumes designed by Tom Broecker range from the era of Louis XIV to the U.S. Civil War to contemporary. The music composed by Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National has an indy-rock feel, yet the vocal stylings of Jasmine Cephas Jones as Roxanne have a deep R&B resonance. Throw into the mix The Great Comet's Grace McLean as a quirky and comedic Marie, and what do you get?

The answer seems to be a puzzle where each piece is brilliant, but the audience has trouble putting it all together. Fortunately, unifying this whole sprawling epic is the character of Cyrano himself, played here by Peter Dinklage. I greatly admired his work in Schmidt's production of A Month in the Country at Classic Stage Company, though apparently he also did some T.V. show about dragons.

Oddly, though, Schmidt's adaptation cuts out some of Cyrano's most famous scenes. We don't get his duel while composing a poem, nor his long list of self-deprecating jokes about his nose. For that matter, his nose is not enlarged at all for the part, and the cast hints that by "nose" they might be referring to another element of his appearance.

Rostand's creation of Cyrano de Bergerac is legendary, and the saga of its first production provided the plot for this year's cinematic gem Cyrano, My Love. This production of Cyrano by the New Group, playing now at the Daryl Roth Theatre, might not prove quite as memorable, but it's still worth seeing, and definitely worth hearing. The songs in the battle scene are particularly evocative, and I would like to see the Dessner brothers write more work for the theatre, especially if they can bring along their lyricists, Matt Berninger and Carin Besser.

If you do see it, bring tissues. The story's finale is appropriately moving, though not necessarily in the same way as the original. The final word of Rostand's play--"panache"--is notoriously difficult to translate, because it refers to both the literal white plume in a soldier's helmet and the intangible qualities of bravery, gallantry, and style Cyrano so prizes. By changing the word simply to "pride" Schmidt has transformed the play from the heroic comedy Rostand intended into a tragedy. Whether that is a good thing or not is a matter of taste.

Currently, Cyrano is only playing until December 22nd, so see it now before it disappears!