There’s more to the idea of love than having a big nose. That’s one of the things I learned from Roundabout Theatre’s boisterous production of Cyrano de Bergerac, director Jamie Lloyd’s interpretation of the 1897 play by Edmond Rostand. The play, which centers on the goings-on of Parisian society, tackles the concept of love in an interesting — and I’d argue binary — way.
Much admired by his contemporaries, Cyrano is a Parisian nobleman of great wit, courage, musical prowess, and poetic eloquence. There’s only one problem: He has one heck of a honker. He pines secretly for his good friend and distant cousin Roxane, a gentlewoman who is widely considered beautiful and sophisticated. But Cyrano refuses to tell Roxane how he feels because he thinks he’s too ugly to deserve her and will be mocked. Roxane, meanwhile, falls in love (purely by sight) with a handsome youth, Christian de Neuvillette. Christian, we soon learn, is an intellectual dud, and he and Cyrano hatch a plan to woo Roxane by combining Christian’s good looks and Cyrano’s moving poetry.
At its core, this play is about the complicated interplay of “physical” love and “pure, intellectual” love. Cyrano claims he wants to be loved for his words and wit, yet he himself falls in love with a renowned beauty. Roxane falls in love with a handsome cadet, but eventually is won over by Cyrano’s words and wit. Christian, meanwhile, starts to lose his desire to be in a relationship with Roxane as he is tired of faking and wants to be appreciated for his own intellect (or lack thereof). However, none of these characters ends up blending the two loves, as by the time Roxane discovers she loves Cyrano and he admits he loves her, he dies and they never consummate their love; and Christian dies before we learn whether Roxane can love him for his true self. So my question is this: Can the two loves coexist? Is one love better than the other?
At times we get the sense that the playwright, Edmond Rostand, is arguing that intellectual love is superior, as the whole play is written in poetic stanzas and at one point Roxane calls her deep love for Cyrano’s intellect “the best love.” But on the other hand, we must remember that there wouldn’t even be a play if physical beauty didn’t play an important role in love.
While Cyrano seems to leave the audience feeling that the two loves cannot coexist, I’d argue that they are, in fact, inextricably intertwined. In fact, it’s often the case that one leads to the other, and only when both are present is that love considered authentic. Though perhaps, as this play demonstrates, that blending is a rare and precious thing — one that takes a literal lifetime to achieve.