(Alexandra Schwartz’s article appeared in the New Yorker, 4/28/ 22; The mania and melancholy of James McAvoy’s Cyrano disguise a desperate rage.Illustration by Matt Williams.)
A new staging, starring James McAvoy, gives us rappers instead of rapiers.
A confession, and a sheepish one for a Francophile to make: my heart does not thrill to the prospect of sitting through “Cyrano de Bergerac.” This may be the fault of my Anglophone ear, which is too clumsy to pick up the rapid-fire panache of Edmond Rostand’s rhyming Alexandrine couplets as they fly by in the original, and English translations have a way of starching the esprit right out of the language. Fairly or not, I have come to associate the play with an aura of whipped-cream foppishness, heavy on swordplay, swishing capes, and swelling bosoms, like the ones in Joe Wright’s recent film adaptation of Erica Schmidt’s musical version. Wright, who cast Peter Dinklage in the title role, traded a big schnoz for small stature as his hero’s signature weakness, a fine idea, but not enough to make up for the general corniness.
I offer such prejudice as an overture to praise for the English director Jamie Lloyd’s dazzling, feral take on “Cyrano,” which has finally arrived at bam, after a celebrated pre-pandemic run in London. This is not Lloyd’s first Rostand rodeo. In 2012, he directed a production of the play on Broadway—a traditional affair of boots, bodices, and feathered hats. The balcony scene had a balcony; verisimilitude carried the day. Since then, Lloyd has converted to minimalism. The set for his 2019 production of Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal” basically consisted of two chairs. Now he has blasted away “Cyrano” ’s damask-draped tropes, and what’s left is little more than a bare stage lit by harsh white fluorescents, a fitting backdrop for a strictly formalist mise en scène, all lines and triangles.