James McAvoy (“X-Men” and “Atonement”) returns to the stage in an inventive adaptation of “Cyrano de Bergerac”, captured live in 2020 from London’s West End and shown in HD on screen at the Newport Center for the Arts in the scene in Newport.
Fierce with a feather and notorious in battle, Cyrano has almost everything going for it – if only he could win the heart of his true love Roxane. There’s just one big problem: he has a nose as huge as his heart. Will a society engulfed in narcissism get the better of Cyrano – or can his mastery of language set Roxane’s world ablaze?
Most people know Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play “Cyrano de Bergerac” as a romantic, swashbuckling classic, staged with swords and capes and a big prosthetic nose. But a reimagined production with movie star James McAvoy as Cyrano dispenses with all that.
Instead, there’s beatboxing, a multiracial cast in modern attire, and Scottish actor McAvoy with his own full-sized nose, rapping about his waist. Cyrano tells the story of a love triangle – the poetic soldier Cyrano loves the beautiful and witty Roxane, who in turn loves the handsome but mute Christian. So, Cyrano helps the young man win over Roxane by providing him with the words he doesn’t have.
“It’s about three people who are objectified and who suffer because of their objectification,” McAvoy said. “Whether they’re objectified because they’re beautiful or ugly or not. It’s a matter of feeling. And I think not having noses allows us to see all of their pain. And their spirit. And their passion. “
Spartan staging, where the actors frequently speak into microphones and sit looking directly at the audience, instead of looking at each other, provides a sense of closeness.
“From an acting perspective, it makes the eye contact so intimate,” said Evelyn Miller, whose Roxane is portrayed as a student in a denim jumpsuit. “Turn around and look [at another actor]after doing a five-minute scene where you didn’t watch them at all – you just listened deeply and intently – only to suddenly turn around and make such intimate eye contact.”
Listening to the language deeply and intensely in this contemporary adaptation is what director Jamie Lloyd is looking for – not just for the actors, but for the audience.
“We paint on the back wall…a particular line that Cyrano says, ‘I like words. That’s all,'” he said. “And in a way, that became the kind of defining idea of the whole production; it was all about words, in a play that features language-obsessed characters.”
He says they use language in ways that can be wonderful or harmful. At one point, Cyrano wins a duel, solely thanks to his linguistic gifts. You don’t need to see a sword to know he cut his opponent to the quick.
Lloyd commissioned playwright Martin Crimp to write the adaptation. As Crimp is fluent in French, he read the Rostand in the original.
“The thing I’ve reacted to the most as a writer is the language, it’s the virtuoso display,” Crimp said. “A ruler [for me] was that the rhyming verses were really important. If I got rid of it, I would throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Lloyd showcases the language in different ways: because the actors speak directly into their microphones, they can speak quietly and everyone in the theater can hear them.
“In many ways, it feels more like a screen game than a stage game,” he said. “And, actually, even more than that, it’s more like theater on the radio.”
For McAvoy, the style of this noseless “Cyrano,” for which he won an Olivier for Best Revival in London, compels audiences to lean in.
“I’ve never experienced such silences in the audience,” the actor said. “I’ve had breaks and things like that. But the silence in the audience is unbelievable.”
The performance will air at 7 p.m. on Friday, July 8.
This presentation of “Cyrano” is made possible thanks to the sponsorship of Porthole Players.
Hublot Players ~ Fostering creative and performing arts in Newport for over 40 years.
Newport Performing Arts Center is located at 777 W. Olive Street, Newport, OR 97365
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