‘Cyrano de Bergerac’
Much is said, many times airlessly, about taking a classic text and rendering it anew. The latest adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac at BAM (to May 22), written by Martin Crimp and directed by Jamie Lloyd, is the real deal, and one of those beg-borrow-steal moments to acquire a ticket.
James McAvoy, sans big honker, plays the title role in modern dress on a starkly contemporary set, in which locations like bookshop and battlefield are left to us to summon in our imaginations, which we do thanks to the tabula rasa designed by Soutra Gilmour, who also does the costumes, and lit by Jon Clark, who does many magical things, most stunning of all conveying a battlefield using hundreds of lightbulbs.
This production, a London transfer and a lovely blend of comedy, drama, and metafiction, features the same characters as Edmond Rostand’s classic, but its comedy and drama are both more pointed. There is a lot of exposed flesh. Delts pop. When Roxane (Evelyn Miller) finds out the truth about Cyrano and Christian’s (Eben Figueiredo) scheme to trick her for their own reasons, she is furious in an emphatically profane way. Christian loves her but cannot express it in words. Cyrano loves her, but his big nose, he feels, will get in the way in more ways than one. It makes every difference that McAvoy doesn’t have a big nose. Again, we imagine it, but with a cast as talented as this having so much rich, subversive fun with the text, no prosthetics are needed.
Evelyn Miller as Roxane and James McAvoy as Cyrano de Bergerac.
Tom Edden as De Guiche is both a beard-stroking comic villain and a legitimately nasty one. The play, which asks itself as many questions as the characters ask each other, even posits a believable attraction between the men and doesn’t make the moment of its realization a joke. And throughout and around it, rap and spoken verse link every scene, with humor, pathos, and grief in absolute balance at absolutely the right moments. Ultimately, as its tantalizing last line suggests, this Cyrano is a play about language—and what a joy it is to see such malleability and mischief of the spoken word in service of that theme on stage.
Language is also at the heart of the David Mamet’s 1975 classic, American Buffalo—a butchly intense play about, well, antique, possibly stolen coins. If you are passionate about nickels of yore—I mean passionate enough to smack people around the head with irons—this is the revival for you (at Circle in the Square, to July 10).
Derogatory terms for lesbians and women generally pepper the text. The night this critic went, some people found this in and of itself funny, which at a time of rampant homophobia and transphobia in state legislatures and abortion being banned in states like Kentucky seems especially unfunny. But then Mamet himself would no doubt castigate those like me for our political correctness or wokeness, or whatever their gaslighting battering ram du jour is. Mamet was even on Fox News this week declaring that teachers were “inclined” to pedophilia; the New York Times reported he’s also condemning the Left’s “anti-Trump psychosis” in new essays. So, all is normal in Mamet-land.
It is easy to see why all-star casts gravitate to the play, with its speeches and muscle-flexing vivacity. And so it is here, with Laurence Fishburne, Sam Rockwell, and Darren Criss Mamet-ing at each other adroitly. Rockwell as Teach, the vexatious friend of junk shop owner Donny (Fishburne) is the best kind of powder keg and deranged motor for the whole performance. Coins, soins, coins. Will they rob some, get some, find the ones they covet?
(l to r) Sam Rockwell, Darren Criss, and Laurence Fishburne in “American Buffalo.”
A fourth character is designer Scott Pask’s fabulous junk shop which features a cluttered stage, and lights and other ephemera hanging from the ceiling. Fishburne is a solid voice of reason, and Criss plays a seemingly lost soul who also seems maybe just a little lost in the role. However, the in-the-round stage at Circle in the Square is a consistent treat of a setting to see such actors letting loose so intimately, particularly Rockwell whose freewheeling menace and blunt nonchalance should be deemed Tony nomination-worthy.
Invective, repetition, manly backchat: the Mamet staples are here, but truly what gives with the damn coins? The actors make as much sense as they can of the foggy mystery and verbal extremity Mamet has written for them around these misplaced little shiny objects, but the playwright’s hot air—so visible on Fox News this week—barely seems to merit his characters’ heightened tempers, much less our interest. Still, Rockwell rocks it.
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