Opening Passage: The stage directions are fairly substantive throughout, so I will take the opening stage directions as the opening passage this time around.
The hall of the Hotel Burgundy in 1640. It is built in the shape of a tennis court, but is arranged and decorated for a theatrical performance.
Summary: The basic story of Cyrano de Bergerac is widely known. A witty soldier and poet, Cyrano, is in love with Madeleine Robin, also known as Roxane; but he suffers under the impediment of having a large nose. Roxane, meanwhile, is attracted to Christian, who is extraordinarily handsome, and she asks Cyrano to look out for him, which he promises, for her. Christian is also in love with Roxane, but, while witty enough in banter with men, is hopeless with women. This is a problem, because Roxane is the sort of woman who could never really bear a man who could not be witty with her. And thus is set up the situation whereby Roxane falls in love with them both without ever learning, until the very end, that she has fallen in love with more than one person.
The play is interesting in that it is highly comic but not a comedy. It is in fact a tragedy. But all the characters have such zest for life -- such panache, as Cyrano taught us to say -- and such wit that one laughs one's way to the inevitable doom. Not a single character in the play finds happiness; but they are all noble, each in his or her own way. Thus the play as a whole is light and pleasant, with a bittersweet aftertaste, like a pastry with orange zest.
In addition to reading the play, I also had a long, fun discussion with MrsD about translating Cyrano's improvised ballade. You can find my version here and her versions at her blog.
I also watched the 1990 movie version of Cyrano de Bergerac, starring Gerard Depardieu. Depardieu's take on the character was somewhat different from what I expected, but it was a very good movie, one that stayed reasonably close to the play itself, while nonetheless making use of some of the advantages of camera over stage.
LE BRET [pointing to the moonlight filtering through the branches]: Your other friend has come to visit you.
CYRANO [smiling at the moon]: I see her.
ROXANE: I have loved but once--one man--
And I must lose him twice.
CYRANO: Tonight, Le Bret,
I shall ascend, without machinery,
And reach the moon at last. [pp. 206-207]
Recommendation: Highly Recommended.
Quotations from Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Louis Untermeyer, tr., Heritage Press (New York: 1954).