James McAvoy at Cyrano premiere

James McAvoy’s Take on ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ Proves It’s Still a Story Worth Telling

When it comes to classic plays, a piece of work like Cyrano de Bergerac has had a life long past what playwright Edmond Rostand probably imagined. Originally written in 1897, the story brings us poet Cyrano de Bergerac and his obsession with words and inability to see past his own appearance to find love in Roxanne, a woman renowned for her beauty as well as her intelligence.

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This leads to a love triangle between Cyrano, Roxanne, and the handsome Christian, who is too afraid of using his own words to try to woe Roxanne. So Cyrano, seeing an opportunity to try to help Roxanne find love outside of his own love for her, works with Christian to write beautiful love letters for Christian to send her, to essentially trick Roxanne into loving him.

Throughout the years, productions have tried to change the “tricking” aspect of the show and have blurred the lines a bit more on Roxanne’s reception to their ordeal, and how both Cyrano and Christian approach doing this and feel guilt in their trickster ways. Cyrano is doing it for a love he thinks will never like him back, Christian is doing it for a woman he thinks won’t like him past his looks, and Roxanne is none the wiser to what they’re doing.

What has been a blessing for the Rostand play is, frankly, a modern twist on it.

The modern world and Cyrano de Bergerac

Whether it is the musical adaptation of Cyrano (that just got a filmed version starring Peter Dinklage) or the production of Cyrano de Bergerac currently running at BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music), starring James McAvoy, the modern lens on the play works wonders for how these characters come across. While I loved the Peter Dinklage take on Cyrano, there’s something about James McAvoy’s take that really drives home just how much Cyrano’s insecurity is rooted in his own hatred of himself. Sure, people mock his nose, and he hates the mention of it, but he lets it rule his motivation and pushes his own insecurities about it onto Roxanne without being honest with her.

McAvoy’s Cyrano is aggressive and angry, but he then has his moments of softness when he’s speaking with Roxanne. He’s so adorably in love with her that he’s willing to sacrifice that for her love of Christian, even if what she loves of him is what Cyrano gifts him: his words.

The end of McAvoy’s portrayal of Cyrano is what truly changed how I viewed this story. As Cyrano is refusing treatment and telling Roxanne the truth, she doesn’t just forgive him because of everything that happened. We can still see in Evelyn Miller’s performance that Roxanne is furious for the betrayal from both Christian and Cyrano, but she’s well aware of how little time she has left with the memory of either of them.

This, paired with the love story between McAvoy’s Cyrano and Eben Figueiredo’s take on Christian, brings us into a new era of the play. At one point in the show, Christian says that he wishes they could just be one, and the two share a kiss that goes unexplored when Christian runs off into the war after learning of Cyrano’s continued letters to Roxanne. This, to me, shows the back and forth in Cyrano’s feelings for Roxanne and his love for Christian that drives him to continue to write these letters long after Christian and Roxanne have gotten married.

McAvoy’s tenderness and aggression as Cyrano

Cyrano is a fascinating character on paper, but watching how actors approach him is the gift that keeps on giving. With the recent film Cyrano, we have Peter Dinklage playing a more reclusive and compassionate Cyrano who fights when he must, and in the past, we’ve had the humorous takes with movies like the 1987 film Roxanne, starring Steve Martin in a comically large nose.

With McAvoy, his anger comes from a life of thinking he’s not good enough. He knows his words can move people, can change the way they think, but he’s so bogged down by his own self-pity and inability to look past what he deems a grotesque nose that he can barely see his own worth to someone he loves, like Roxanne.

The BAM production has Cyrano’s poems as spoken word poetry (given that the play is in verse). As the official website states: ” Cyrano seduces in raps and rhymes, using his linguistic brilliance to help another man win the heart of his one true love—above all—championing his own unbridled love for words.”

Seeing the love he has for Roxanne and Christian expressed within his words, as he tries to let them find their own happiness together despite the pain it gives him, leaves the audience feeling for Cyrano in a way I hadn’t really in the past. This adaptation, directed by Jamie Lloyd, gives agency to the characters that can often come across as a caricature if not done right, and I was floored by the production as a whole.

Come for James McAvoy growling at you in his Scottish accent, stay for an incredibly fresh and new take on the Rostand play.

(image: Arturo Holmes/Getty Images)


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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.