Three Interpretations of Cyrano de Bergerac
There have been many interpretations of Edmund Rostand’s play “Cyrano de Bergerac”, but three versions stand out. Kevin Kline portrayed Cyrano in a stage production of the play in 2008, French actor Gérard Depardieu depicted him in a 1990 French movie adaptation, and in 1950 Jose Ferrer played Cyrano in a movie adaptation, for which he won an Oscar. All three actors offer different characterizations of Cyrano, although many of Cyrano’s main traits (particularly his large nose) remain. The balcony scene is a clear example of how differently these actors have interpreted the character.
Kevin Kline’s 2008 stage adaption takes a comedic approach to the character of Cyrano and the play as a whole. Since he is performing for a live audience, he acts in a way that will bring out the most laughter, as he is feeding off their immediate reactions. He does this with an over exaggerated acting style, and using his facial expressions and body language to emphasize the comedy. An example of this is when Kline’s Cyrano makes fun of Christian’s stupidity. When Christian is trying to call Roxane onto the balcony, he yells her name abruptly. Kline stares at him in disbelief and smiles, putting his index finger to his head to imply that Christian is not very bright. Throughout the scene, Kline continues to draw out laughter from the audience with his witty lines (“by the sound of it a woman and a man! Oh, I see what they mean…a priest”). They also add extra lines in this production to heighten the comedy. When Cyrano wins the kiss for Christian, Cyrano asks, “what are you waiting for?” to which Christian, who was so eager for the kiss moments before, nervously responds “I’m not sure now is really the right time”. This line is not in the original play, but is added in this stage adaptation to get laughs. Similarly, in this interpretation Christian uses Cyrano as a mount to climb up the balcony, which was not in the original play.
However, in this scene Kline steps away from the comedy to show Cyrano’s softer, sensitive side. During his balcony speech, his love for Roxane is powerful and sincere. He manages to shed a tear during one point of his speech, and stares at Roxane lovingly throughout. Although Kline’s performance is based on a comical interpretation of the play, he manages to have a sincere moment in this scene.
Gérard Depardieu depicts the character of Cyrano in the 1990 French movie “Cyrano de Bergerac”. Depardieu stays close to the play’s description of Cyrano, however he lacks the amount of passion the character requires. Staying true to the text, Depardieu maintains Cyrano’s mastery of words (‘How shall we define a kiss?…the O of love on waiting lips…a way to know the other’s heart and touch the portals of his soul!”). However, as he delivers these lines there is no change in the tone of his voice. Depardieu underplays Cyrano and it is therefore hard to believe he loves Roxane. At the end of the balcony scene, he walks away and turns back to look at Roxane and Christian as they embrace. He doesn’t recite the ‘my words, my kiss’ speech, which is an important part in most interpretations as it shows Cyrano in a state of despair. The director adds rain to the scene to give it a melancholy tone, but without the speech Cyrano is not as heartbroken as he should be. However, the movie version is in French, so it does stay true to the original text of the play in that sense. The words seem to flow much better than English translations.
Jose Ferrer’s 1950 portrayal of Cyrano shows a dramatic interpretation of the character with his strong, physical presence. Like Depardieu, Ferrer also conveys Cyrano to be a wonderful, passionate speaker (“And what is a kiss when all is done?…A moment made immortal with a rush of wings unseen…A new song sung by two hearts to an old simple tune”). He is comical at times when he corrects Christian (Christian points to Cyrano instead of Roxanne when he is speaking to her). However, it is not as over emphasized as Kline’s comedic performance. It is Ferrer’s strong, physical presence that sets him apart from the other interpretations. The audience can see that Cyrano is in love with Roxane, as Ferrer’s body language mirrors his emotive words. He uses big, theatrical gestures when needed, and his voice rises and falls with the intensity of his words. Ferrer maintains the prideful nature of Cyrano after he wins the kiss for Christian (“Since it must be, I would rather myself be the cause”). The audience is made to feel sympathetic for him, as he acts completely defeated after the kiss. Sadness takes over him as he supports himself on a wall, closing his eyes when he realizes what he has accomplished (“I spoke the words that won her. She kisses my words. My words…upon his lips”). Jose Ferrer’s portrayal of Cyrano is powerful, and stays close to Rostand’s Cyrano in the original play.
In all three interpretations, the fundamental aspects of Cyrano’s character are there – his wit, mastery of words, and outlandishly large nose. However, these three actors portrayed the character of Cyrano using their own interpretations. Kline opted for a comedic approach, Depardieu underplays Cyrano but preserves flow through the French language, and Ferrer uses a dramatic style that worked well with his strong presence.
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