Off-Broadway Review: CYRANO DE BERGERAC (BAM Harvey Theatre in Brooklyn)

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by Gregory Bernard on April 20, 2022

in Theater-New York


Cyrano de Bergerac may be the most romantic, tragic love story to withstand the test of time. (Romeo & Juliet drops in comparison.) Written in 1897, Edmond Rostand’s classic play follows the unrequited love of Cyrano (James McAvoy) for his childhood friend, Roxane (Evelyn Miller). At the end of scene one, she asks for a private meeting with Cyrano, who, beside himself, anticipates her acknowledgment of love, his dream come true. But instead, the love she confesses is for the young handsome Christian (Eben Figueiredo), a newly arrived soldier in Cyrano’s regiment. Not only does she want an introduction, but also to keep him safe. With heartache, Cyrano devises a plan to make her coupling wish come true, content to witness her enraptured happiness over his own by writing love letters to her disguised as Christian.

James McAvoy (Cyrano de Bergerac)

Beautifully cast — literally — the handsome, fit James McAvoy looks to be sculpted in white, pinkish marble when he tosses off his shirt. But there is no prosthetic; Cyrano’s infamous bulbous nose is missing. Without meaning to compare a large proboscis to the full body deformities of “Elephant Man” Joseph Merrick, but in Bernard Pomerance’s 1979 play, Merrick’s Proteus syndrome is verbally described, then ignored, and cast with a handsome actor (Philip Anglim, David Bowie, et al). It’s a fascinating conceit that works even more here to underscore just how vital language is. For both Cyrano and Roxane, words are not only vital to describe fervent love, but are as necessary as oxygen. As with a politically correct society, we’ve no reason to see why Cyrano’s love shouldn’t be taken seriously, yet the nose is exactly why he suffers from self-doubt and low self-esteem.

Cast of Cyrano de Bergerac.

Along with McAvoy’s passionate, heartfelt performance (as well as the equally fervent ensemble), the biggest star of this production is translator and adapter Martin Crimp. He is every bit the genius wordsmith with brilliant mic drops throughout. And apparently, director Jamie Lloyd agrees because his actors face full front when speaking their dialogue, rarely looking at one another onstage. In front of microphone stands or seated looking out, the show is somewhat like a glorified staged reading, staged as it is in a presentational style, such as stilted choreography to represent battle. Whether or not that’s a taste to be tolerated for nearly three hours, it can be forgiven for this philologist lovefest. Contemporarily relevant, a microphone becomes the paper on which a poem is written, and the reading of such poetry befits a freestyle battle between spoken word artists, often with Beatbox accompaniment by Vaneeka Dadhria.

Nari Blair-Mangat (Valvert), James McAvoy,
Brinsley Terence (Theatre Owner)

Designers Soutra Gilmour (Set & Costumes) and Jon Clark (Lighting) are held within minimalist boundaries, presenting the world of the play within a plywood looking box, both neutral and sparse. A one-step platform spans the width of the stage between the proscenium arches, and, for act two, four more such platforms are added as a five-step hillside for the Siege of Arras. Besides a few chairs and a framed mirror, there are no other set pieces, furniture, or props.

 Evelyn Miller (Roxane) & James McAvoy (Cyrano de Bergerac)

Most memorably, there is a kiss. A kiss that remains one of the most endearing and romantic I’ve ever witnessed onstage. With surprise, it will dazzle your senses and melt your heart. For this kiss alone, Cyrano de Bergerac is a must attend. Add to it the electric words and performances, and you’ll agree: “For never was a story of more woe, than this of Roxane and her Cyrano.”

James McAvoy, Evelyn Miller (Roxane) & Eben Figueiredo (Christian)

photos by Marc Brenner

James McAvoy (Cyrano de Bergerac)

Cyrano de Bergerac
The Jamie Lloyd Company at BAM Harvey Theater
651 Fulton St in Brooklyn
opened April 14, 2022 (reviewed April 17)
ends on May 22, 2022
for tickets, call 718.636.4100 or visit BAM

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