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With his blank expression framed by a stringy wig and an unflattering black ensemble that makes him appear slightly paunchy and derelict, Douglas Hodge brings to Broadway an unprecedented interpretation of the courtly Cyrano de Bergerac as frat boy, in a production that could be an episode of TV’s “Arrested Development.”
Hodge, who won a Tony award for singing “I Am What I Am” in a revival of “La Cage aux Folles,” lacks any of the qualities that make that dashing schnozzy Gascon resonate with men and women.
Here is a hero, after all, whose skill set includes Olympian swordsmanship and Shakespearean wordsmanship. He’s been a regular visitor to Broadway in the century since Edmond Rostand created him.
In this Roundabout Theatre presentation, it’s impossible to think of him single-handedly dispatching, as Cyrano does, 100 challengers. The first would leave this fellow gasping for air.
Cyrano loves his smart, beautiful young cousin Roxane, played by Clemence Poesy as a spoiled brat. He believes his outlandish proboscis (here more grossly porcine than usual) prevents anyone from loving him.
Roxane loves Christian, a newly arrived cadet in the company Cyrano leads. Christian, played by Kyle Soller with unattractively matted hair, is a handsome dolt. Cyrano gallantly offers to be his voice in wooing her.
Make of their motives what you will, most stagings of “Cyrano” play this dual effort as a matter of comic poignance: Cyrano accepting surrogacy over invisibility; Christian recognizing in Cyrano the voice that will make him appear worthy of Roxane.
In Ranjit Bolt’s witless translation, their efforts are more about getting into Roxane’s pants than into her heart.
“Alone, we neither of us stand a chance -- combined, we could get any girl in France!” Cyrano tells Christian. “I mean, suppose we two seduce her jointly, compositely woo?”
Those were among the few lines I could make out; so many of Cyrano’s ripostes were inaudible and delivered at warp speed that it’s difficult to figure out how the show takes two hours and 40 minutes getting to the good part. That’s when Roxane (perhaps not so sharp as reputed) realizes who her true love was all along.
Soutra Gilmour’s shadowy, cavernous set suggests a catacombs beneath the streets of 17th-century Paris. The director, Jamie Lloyd, might have moved the action closer to the stage apron and slowed the pace ever so slightly. But clarity would only have emphasized an adaptation peppered with anachronisms and banal rhymes, as in:
“And then of course...And then of course there is...
That utterly amazing nose of his!
You see it and you can’t help crying out:
Several supporting roles are nicely played, chief among them Patrick Page as the villainous Comte de Guiche and Max Baker as Le Bret, Cyrano’s faithful champion. And I can’t say enough about Japhy Weideman’s beautiful lighting, a palette of fading sunshine filtered through Paris grit and, later, rural mist. If only they were enough to make up for this deflating misfire.
Through Nov. 25 at the American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St. Information: +1-212-719-1300; http://www.roundabouttheatre.org. Rating: *1/2
What the Stars Mean: ***** Fantastic **** Excellent *** Good ** So-So * Poor (No stars) Avoid
(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Lewis Lapham on books and New York Weekend.
To contact the writer of this column: Jeremy Gerard in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at email@example.com.