Much has been made of the fact that Frank Langella's Cyrano, which debuted at the Roundabout Theater in New York City in 1997 and is now running at City Lights in San Jose through April 18, 2010, is a good deal shorter than Edmond Rostand's 1897 original. That production typically clocks in at more than four hours. At two and a half hours, including intermission, Langella's Cyrano is still a substantial evening of theater, but with Jeff Kramer in the title role, I wish it had gone the full four.
Kramer brings panache to his portrayal of the character who popularized the word. He is all bravado and bluster when circumstances demand, commanding the stage as the other players wither and wilt before him. So convincingly does Kramer channel the character's boundless will that, at times, we believe that this warrior poet could indeed slay 100 men singlehandedly. When he tells us that he is too proud to be a parasite, we wish we could always say the same; when pride causes him to go to his death rather than confess the truth to the woman he has always loved, we want to admire his irrationality.
Kramer's Cyrano, we immediately believe, is a man whose rapier wit is as sharp as his sword, whose way with words could melt the heart of the fairest maiden. Most importantly, behind Cyrano's confident boasts and satisfied smiles, Kramer gives us tinges, and then torrents, of melancholy and despair, the products of a profound insecurity that pervades his being despite his formidable intelligence and physical skills.
The problem, of course, is his enormous nose, which in this City Lights production is long, craggy, and deformed. It's not just big (every time Kramer dons and doffs his baldric, I worried he might inadvertently rip the cursed thing from his face) but ugly, too. It is a singularly disgusting nose, an eyesore, a catastrophe. Kramer wears it like a crown.
But the story of Cyrano is not a cautionary tale about the limits of self esteem. Rather, it's a tragedy -- although at times hilarious -- about unrequited love. The object of Cyrano's affection is Roxane, played here by Sarah Griner. Roxane's smile is so rapt, her gaze on would-be lover Christian (Joshua Marx) is so fixed that sparks seem to fly between the two. And when she flirts with her older, deformed cousin Cyrano to ask that he protect her beautiful Christian, breaking Cyrano's heart in the process, her flirty, self-absorbed insensitivity is painful and glorious to watch.
Other actors who shine in this fine production include Lucinda Dobinson, whose servant girl Lise doesn't utter a single line but whose face is a mirror of empathy as she hovers around Cyrano, echoing his pain, hopes, and dreams. Derek McCaw is also good in several roles, especially early on as an irredeemably terrible actor. And Steve Lambert's Ragueneau is a fine drunken cook, whose amiability and baking, if not his poetry, repeatedly draw saviors such as Cyrano to his side.
Frank Langella's Cyrano runs through April 18, 2010 at City Lights Theater Company in San Jose. For tickets and information, visit cltc.org.