I must admit, unashamedly, my favorite play is “Cyrano de Bergerac” by Edmond Rostand. Has been for as long as I can remember, even before I saw my first production. I fell in love with the play the first time I read it. I named my first pug Cyrano, even though the dog had no nose. I never saw the movie with Jose Ferrer(I just can’t get through it), and I never wanted to see the most recent film version with Gerard Depardieu. No, all my history with this wonderful piece has been onstage. Back in 1985, there was a gorgeous, mouth-watering production courtesy of the RSC London that played Broadway in repertory with “Much Ado About Nothing”. The stars were Derek Jacobi and Sinead Cusack. It was a “Cyrano” for the ages. The production blew me away with a hypnotic power I won’t forget. That particular production is foerever etched in my memory. And for a short time, it was available on video. So, of course, I own it. Memory etching is much easier when you can pop the video in whenever you want. I thought I would never see a better portrayal of my favorite character in fiction.
I was wrong. The definitive Cyrano de Bergerac is onstage 8 times a week at The Richard Rodgers Theatre and his name is Kevin Kline. I’ve seen Jacobi, I’ve seen powerhouse British actor Anthony Sher, I’ve seen Frank Langella all play the ultimate hopeless romantic, but never has it been done so well or so effortlessly as it’s currently being done by Mr. Kline. What makes Kline’s Cyrano so different from all the others is his lack of bravado. His Cyrano is not a scenery-chewing blowhard, or a dangerously lunatic fanatic, or a foppish eccentric, spouting poetry while brandishing a rapier, NAY, Kline’s Cyrano is a man who knows at some point he’s going to go too far, but in the meanwhile is happy to push the envelope as far as it will go. He doesn’t seem to care that he’s outnumbered or facing impossible odds, he’s just a man content to go just a little bit further each time out, just to see if he can. In other words, he’s mortal. When you watch this portrayal, you are all too aware you’re NOT watching a superhero, you’re watching a man who’s aware his days are numbered. But he’s also a romantic. And what could be worse than a hopeless romantic? Answer- a hopeful one. His love for Roxanne knows no bounds, but he’s a man keenly aware of his limitations, and his biggest limitation is the one thing that scares him the most. And that one thing is his physical appearance, to wit, a massive and grotesque nose. Reading this play always made me ache; indeed, I defy anyone to read Cyrano de Bergerac and not relate in some way. Cyrano’s plight is, in many ways, everyman’s. He will fight to the death for what he loves, but when it comes to expressing it, it’s the physical appearance that keeps him back. Kline nails all the humor, the heartache, the irony, the pathos, the sheer BEAUTY of Cyrano de Bergerac. It’s a performance that will make you ache.
Off-Broadway, there’s a twinge-y, creepy little piece at Manhattan Theatre Club called “The Receptionist” by Adam Bock that brought to mind the kind of thing Harold Pinter used to do so well in the sixties. It’s the kind of play they used to refer to as “A play of menace”, the kind of psychological thriller they don’t write all that much anymore. Well, here it is, a play so seemingly sunny and mundane and ordinary on the outside, that suddenly turns out to be about much much more than you thought, that by the end, it feels like someone’s crept up behind you and scared the willies out of you. The cast of four is first-rate, with Jane Houdyshell and Josh Charles giving knockout performances. Catch this one while you can.
Movie fans, television watchers and theatregoers all should mourn the recent passing of the great, brilliant actor George Grizzard, who passed away from lung cancer some weeks ago. He will be missed. His career encompassed so many roles-he was the original Nick in Albee’s “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?” on Broadway in the sixties;he won the Tony award in another Albee play, “A Delicate Balance” about 10 years ago, in which he costarred with Rosemary Harris and Elaine Stritch. Albee himself commented recently that Grizzard and Stritch didn’t much get along offstage; in fact, Albee claims Mr. Grizzard would whisper the most UNPRINTABLE things in Elaine’s ear each night during the curtain call. One can only imagine. But Grizzard was a familiar face in every medium, whether a suitor on “The Golden Girls”, Jane Curtin’s father on “Third Rock From The Sun”, the US president in the great, underrated film “Wrong Is Right”, or my particular favorite portrayal of his- as Jason Robards’s henchman in the Jane Fonda movie, “Comes A Horseman”. He was a chameleon, and we are bereft by his passing.