There may be prohibitive reasons, doubtless having to do with money, but in my perfect world every noteworthy or even more than halfway interesting theatrical production would be committed to film or tape or a digital hard drive and make its way to the wider world, by which I mean television. In my telescoped memory, it seems that this happened quite often when I was small, and at its best delivered an electric charge particular to live performance. That the productions were, by definition, stagebound, was never a problem -- it was the point. The recent Broadway "Raisin in the Sun," adapted for television last year, might have been better served by simply filming a performance; none of the added material or exterior shots materially improved it.
PBS has been the primary agent of such broadcasts, more formerly than now, but tonight brings a "Great Performances" presentation of "Cyrano de Bergerac," a 2007 Broadway revival of Edmund Rostand's 1897 play about the long-nosed 17th century swordsman, playwright and vicarious lover, starring Kevin Kline and Jennifer Garner. The production -- which also featured Daniel Sunjata as Christian and Chris Sarandon as Comte de Guiche -- was enormously successful, taking in nearly $1 million a week during its limited run, and while it is not perfect in every respect, it is a good thing to have put on tape, or the DVD that you will be told how to buy directly after the broadcast.
Directed for TV by Matthew Diamond ("Camp Rock") -- the stage production was directed David Leveaux -- the show begins in the audience, pulling back from a Playbill on a patron's lap to the large and elegant Richard Rodgers Theatre.
The audience remains present throughout by dint of its laughter -- although it has a tragic arc, the play is largely a comedy -- and later, as darker notes are sounded, its palpable stillness.
Garner has done good work on the small and large screens, from "Alias" to "Juno," but she seems like a fish out of water here. As the play's object of desire, she looks good, which the role does require. But, while I don't know what effect her performance had in the theater itself -- the New York Times called her "captivating" -- onscreen she is overly large, in speech and gesture, as if most of her energy were going into making sure she's seen and heard in the last row and less into being understood. It makes Roxane appear something of a flibbertigibbet, even slightly insane; it's hard to tell what Cyrano sees in her.
Kline, on the other hand, gives a remarkably subtle -- given that he is playing a superhero -- yet room-filling performance. The part suits him perfectly, playing to his talents for comedy and swashbuckling and for communicating a kind of suppressed inner sadness. He gives just the right push to the rhymes in Anthony Burgess' translation, written in couplets like the original, so that you feel the poetry without feeling attacked by it. Sixty at the time, he is nevertheless light-footed and graceful, fencing, dancing a jig or just moving from here to there. He makes you laugh, and then he breaks your heart.
'Great Performances: Cyrano de Bergerac'
When: 8 tonight
Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)