Arts and Entertainment

A Play of Prose and Poetry

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Issue 16, Volume 112

By Kaeden Ruparel 

Can words cut deeper than knives? That was the question that director Jamie Lloyd sought to answer through his adaptation of “Cyrano de Bergerac,” or “Cyrano” for short. While the dialogue was modernized from Edmund Rostand’s original 1897 novel, the play still centered around the Thirty Years War and stayed true to all of the original main characters and most plot points. However, Lloyd chose to incorporate prose and verse throughout the play’s dialogue, placing emphasis on intricate wordplay rather than elaborate sets, lights, or props.

The play opens with Cyrano de Bergerac, a brilliant swordsman and a skilled writer (played in Lloyd’s version by the outstanding James McAvoy), falling in love with Roxanne (Evelyn Miller), as does everyone else in Paris. Among them is Christian (Eben Figuerido), a handsome young man with plans to join the cadets, the group of soldiers training for the war. However, Christian lacks the one thing Roxanne wants most: words. Cyrano and Christian strike up a partnership, with Cyrano writing the letters to Roxanne and Christian providing the kissing, until Christian decides he doesn’t need Cyrano’s help anymore, nearly ruining his relationship with Roxanne. The remainder of the story revolves more around Cyrano and Christian’s relationship, until eventually the cadets are called for the war, shifting the dynamic to become far more somber, in contrast to the more lighthearted, sometimes comedic first half.

Cyrano de Bergerac has seen numerous on-screen adaptations, including Joe Wright’s recent adaptation, starring Peter Dinklage as Cyrano. However, all of these adaptations feature grand, elaborate sets and focus on the simple love triangle plot, while Lloyd’s “Cyrano” highlights the elaborate poetry that shapes the dialogue between characters and serves more as a portrait of the eponymous lead.

McAvoy’s acting was particularly exceptional. His dynamic range as an actor shined through in his seamless switches from a lovesick, heartbroken, and delicate poet to a fierce and commanding soldier in mere seconds. McAvoy portrayed Cyrano’s internal conflict in an almost playful and lighthearted way that amplified the audience’s sympathy for him and demonstrated his thorough understanding of Cyrano’s complex internal tumult. Arguably the best part of McAvoy’s performance, though, was his exceptional delivery of the prose that filled the play, as he recited lines at a rapid-fire pace, but still filled each syllable with sharp emotion. Lloyd replaced the flashy rapier skirmishes with lyrical prose battles, centering the show’s standout element.

The remainder of the ensemble also delivered intriguing and convincing performances, with different characters developing the theme of the power of words. The cadets were the most interesting members of the ensemble, and their chemistry with McAvoy was an engaging representation of Cyrano’s characteristic loyalty. The melancholic scenes of the second act depicting the cadets’ experience in the war were filled with slow and somber verses, with exchanges between the cadets and Cyrano feeling hopeless and desperate, another example of Lloyd’s mastery of words and their tonality to build mood.

The sparse set eliminated external distractions and allowed the audience to focus solely on the script and performances, aside from a strange moment that featured a cast member painting words upon the back wall: an interesting symbolic choice, but one that proved distracting and frustrating for the audience. The time period of the play was purposefully ambiguous, save for a few possible references in the script, with no clear distinction or hint coming from the costumes or the set design. Lloyd abandoned the use of props entirely, an interesting symbolic choice that once again highlights his desire for the audience to focus on the intricacies and nuances of the prose and verse.

Arguably the most impactful choice was the use of silence. There were numerous instances of excruciatingly long periods of silence, while characters remained in motion, that helped to enhance either the heartbreak, surprise, or devastation of the moment. McAvoy used the power of silence expertly, creating a painful awkwardness during his exchanges with Roxanne about her love for Christian, or evoking a feeling of helplessness throughout his more dramatic scenes with Christian during the war.

The play’s greatest accomplishment was Lloyd’s exploration of the theme of poetry as a weapon. As the plotline progressed and the intensity of the war heightened, the poetry and dialogue grew more intense and urgent, while its structure loosened. While Cyrano’s poetry was organized, rhymed, and delicately crafted at the play’s beginning, it became pointed, abrasive free verse, lacking the same rhyme schemes and metaphors that had previously shaped by the end. Lloyd used his opportunity as the play’s director to emphasize the power of words, and it paid off beautifully.

The impact of poetry was seen most clearly in the ending, which differed greatly from Rostand’s original version. Christian’s death during the war (which kickstarts the play’s ending, following a simmering and emotional yet stagnant second act) is portrayed in a somber, wistful way, in contrast to the common film depictions, in which it is dramatic and soul-crushing. However, preceding his departure, Christian and Cyrano exchange a passionate kiss, a twist that left much of the audience gasping. The moment symbolizes the impact that Cyrano’s poetry had on Christian; it had so much of an impact that, rather than falling in love with Roxanne as was intended, Christian falls in love with Cyrano. This kiss, which is clearly bewildering for both Christian and Cyrano, displays just how words can pierce a person’s soul, much further than a sword ever could, and sets the stage for a simple yet beautiful ending to the play. Cyrano and Roxanne’s final exchange, where they sit facing the audience, is filled with chaotically exquisite prose that represents the dynamic states of both of their lives. This simple ending, as opposed to a dramatic, all-encompassing death of Cyrano, is a perfect denouement, and an ode to the simple yet powerful choices that reverberated through Lloyd’s “Cyrano de Bergerac.”