By Jacob Sahms
In Joe Wright’s 2022 musical version of the 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac, Peter Dinklage plays the titular character, trading witty barbs, lovely poems, and rapier thrusts with the rest of the characters created by Edmond Rostand. Wright directs the story of unrequited love, basing his version on Erica Schmidt’s stage musical. Compelling, heartfelt, and well-balanced, the story is uplifting and tragic, funny and serious, playful and powerful.
de Bergerac is in love with Haley Bennett’s Roxanne, but she’s in love with Kelvin Harrison Jr.’s Christian. Off to the side, the pompous Duke de Guiche (Ben Mendelsohn at his smarmiest) wants Roxanne for himself, but she can see right through his cumbersome advances, rejecting him again and again. What she can’t see through is the poetry that Christian ends up passing off as his own — for those unfamiliar with the story or Steve Martin’s comedy Roxanne – de Bergerac does all of the romantic thinking!
Part-Shakespearean, part-rom/com, Cyrano uses music beautifully, even as Dinklage battle raps while actually batting with swords. Wright is no stranger to period pieces, having delivered Pride and Prejudice, Pan, Anna Karenina, and Darkest Hour, alongside his Academy Award-winning film Atonement. The sets sparkle, the costumes reflect the ridiculousness of the court and all its trappings, setting up the actors to deliver an old-themed story with love that we can all relate to over time and space.
Rather than appearing quaint because of its setting, Cyrano leaves us wanting more, wanting better, for the poet and his muse. Unfortunately, this is a tragic play, too, and not everything ends well for everyone. There is a poetic justice though, to the way that de Bergerac writes poetry afraid he won’t be accepted — and how he’s accepted and loved by Christians in the story because of his heart. He’s loved not “in spite of” his appearance, but rather as a whole person. They embrace him with grace even if he lacks grace for himself.
Wright and Co. have delivered a solid entry into the use of the old story, and potentially a few Award wins before it’s all said and done. At the very least, they’ve shared a vision for what real love looks like, and challenged us to cherish the opportunities that we have to experience love and to show it to others.