Monday, May 23, 2022

My White Plume

It's come to my attention that there are those who have never known the name Hercule Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac.  Why should they know him?  Edmond Rostand wrote the play in 1897 and he wrote it in French, of all things.

A secret few know that I have two totems in literature: one is the creature-god Kong, and the other is Cyrano.  I've never denied it.  I have seen and studied every possible production of the play that came within my grasp.  The most recent production in 2021 adds two remarkable new facets to the story: its music and the actor Peter Dinklage.

Rostand's play tells the story of Cyrano, a brilliant and gallant soldier who secretly loves his oldest friend Roxanne.  Secretly because despite his many gifts, Cyrano is deformed.  Traditionally portrayed with an enormous nose, but in 2021 as a dwarf.

At a play, a cadet in Cyrano's regiment named Christian de Neuvillette sees Roxanne and instantly falls into infatuation, as she does with him.  Later, Christian confesses his love for Roxanne to his commander Cyrano and asks for help making Roxanne love him.  Christian is shy and uses words poorly.  Cyrano knows Roxanne loves wit and poetry.  He also knows that Christian is brave and as beautiful as Roxanne herself.  He agrees to write letters to Roxanne, pretending to be Christian, so that Roxanne may fall in love with him.

The plot works.  Roxanne confesses to Cyrano that she loves Christian, not knowing that the words she loved were of her friend, Cyranos's own devotion for her, not Christian's.  

Cyrano's regiment goes to war.  Cyrano uses all his skills and all his bravery to ensure the cadet Christian's survival.   He also risks his own life by secretly delivering letters to Roxanne pretending to be Christian but telling of his own love.

Ordered into a suicide mission, Cyrano's skills grant his own survival, but despite them, Christian dies.  Roxanne has one last letter from Christian that she keeps on a ribbon around her neck, stained with tears she believes are his, and her own.

Many years later, Roxanne lives in a cloister.  Still faithful to her beloved Christian, she never took another suitor.  Regularly, her friend Cyrano visits her and delivers the news and styles of Paris.  

On this day, he is mortally wounded by bandits.  He hides the scar under his hat and meets one last time with the now older Roxanne.  Knowing he is dying, he asks Roxanne to read Christian's last letter; he knows she keeps it close to her breast, aloud to him.  The letter he wrote himself.  I won't give away the end.

Besides switching Cyrano's nose for Dinklage's dwarfism, what's remarkable about this production is that it's based on a stage version written by Erica Schmidt, Dinklage's own wife.  Many great actors have sought to play Cyrano as they do Hamlet and Othello and Lear, a privilege denied to Dinklage because of his condition.  The play is Schmidt's love gift to her husband.

After a successful run, funds became available allowing them to mount a film production, but Covid prevented its broad distribution.  It's not available on any of the streaming services, but you can rent it from either Youtube or Amazon for just a few dollars.

It's worth the viewing based on the performance by Dinklage and Haley Bennett as Roxanne.  The locations and cinematography are beautiful, and the music is memorable and charming.  It's nominated for several awards, including BAFTA, Golden Globes, and Academy Awards for acting and music.

Of the many interpretations of Cyrano, this may be my favorite, based mostly on Dinklage's performance.  I also found the audacity of mixing up a piece considered a classic a brave move, fittingly inspired by a real-life true love.  

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