James McAvoy is a Cyrano knockout, and Sam Rockwell is a blast in Mamet

NEW YORK – Beatbox, spoken word and “Cyrano de Bergerac” – what could go wrong? Well, in this case, nothing does: A happy and fiery James McAvoy leads a fabulous British cast in a reviving version of “Cyrano”. With a whip-smart script by Martin Crimp, the production highlights a cool new vocabulary for Edmond Rostand’s sentimental monument to love.

The spirit of the aggressively modern staging at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where it had its official opening Thursday night, remains true to Cyrano and art. A phrase painstakingly inscribed letter by letter by actress Nima Taleghani on the back wall of Soutra Gilmour’s blonde wooden set testifies to the theatre’s passionate devotion to chapter and verse; I want to let the message be revealed to you again, to suggest it’s part of the fun.

It is verse, however, that this “Cyrano”, directed with witty elegance by Jamie Lloyd, especially seeks to lift in the hip-hop stylings of Cyrano, Roxane (a glowing Evelyn Miller) and yes, even thick as a castle-brick Christian (Eben Figueiredo). McAvoys Cyrano could exterminate an opponent with an épée or fist, but that’s the language he uses most violently. Even when the actor’s Scottish accent engulfs some of Crimp’s dynamic consonants, especially in the famous speech in which Cyrano rattles insults off his own wonderful nose, the effect is heroically electric.

The excitement that McAvoy and the company create on one side of the East River can be felt in important moments on the other side, in the revival of a modern classic. It would be David Mamet’s “American Buffalo” on Broadway’s Circle in the Square, where it – in its fourth Broadway incarnation since 1977 – officially opened, also on Thursday night. The trio Sam Rockwell, Laurence Fishburne and Darren Criss anchor the piece in dynamite style.

Mamet’s best work – we will not talk about some of his deeply flawed efforts from the last decade – is activated by the art behind the sloppy deal. In “Speed-the-Plow” and “Glengarry Glen Ross,” he added muscle mass to the film and real estate industries, respectively. In “American Buffalo”, directed by Neil Pepe, longtime Mamet collaborator and artistic director of the Atlantic Theater Company, his goal is three connivers, druggies and sleazes – Donny (Fishburne), Bobby (Criss) and Teach (Rockwell) – who meet in Donny’s Chicago junkyard to plan a comically incompetent burglary.

Mamet’s trademark in “American Buffalo” is the epithet-laden street talk that so majestically captures the cadences of small-time hustlers. “The only way to teach these people is to kill them,” mumbles Rockwell’s Teach in one of its logic-twisted pages, which the actor delivers with his own funny, offbeat, lowlife magnetism. His captivating Teach is the hair-trigger-tempered, cowardly bull in Donny’s cluttered shop – where the characters are as much discarded as the clever one. And much of this mercury evening’s pleasure is simply in watching Rockwell lob the verbal grenades that Fishburn’s Donny deftly avoids and Criss’ pathetic Bobby absorbs.

However, it is difficult to reconcile the elegant vulgarity of “American Buffalo” with the more bizarre kind that the playwright himself has recently thrown out on television. One hesitates to pull the ridiculous public comment from a writer – even one as famous as Mamet – into a review. In this case, however, his inflammatory claim last weekend on Fox News – “that teachers are prone, especially men, because men are predators, to pedophilia” – must be rejected as it is disgusting and a stain on his reputation. As the son of a teacher, I was ill. And it could have made it emotionally unbearable to watch one of his plays.

But a job is a job, good theater is good theater, and this company deserves its due because “American Buffalo” is doing well. Pepe’s production on Circle in the Square’s three-sided push stage – equipped with striking accessories by set designer Scott Pask with something resembling 100,000 items from a third – class farm sale – fits satisfactorily into the play’s cycle of misunderstood aspiration and violence. Still, it’s the full infusion of the soft side of tragedy comedy that concerns Donny’s parental feelings for Bobby that is missing.

At the heart of “American Buffalo” is Donny and Bobby’s idiotic plan to steal an American “buffalo head” nickel back from a well-heeled collector he bought from Donny – for what Donny and Teach now think was a song. Their whimsical rumble masks a deeper pain in the play – especially the pain associated with Teach’s jealousy and the need for Donny to help steer the ignorant, pointless Bobby out of the addiction.

Criss influences a touching lethargy like a junkie with no probable way out of bottom feeding, and Fishburne, in the play’s most challenging role, gives the production a glimpse of the better man Donny could be. Maybe all that is needed here is a little more emotional clarity, in the midst of all that clutter.

It feels important to return to the effect of “Cyrano de Bergerac” – transcendent, without any foolish baggage from the outside. With a cast of 18, director Lloyd and playwright Crimp showed the joy of a venture that demonstrates the enduring power of live theater, especially in reinvented form. The facial feature that confuses Cyrano is nowhere to be seen, but the title character’s fighting defensiveness is still there, and it’s excellent. Rap fights take the place of duels in this virile production, which is performed on a set as shiny as the pages of a drama that may have yet been written.

This “Cyrano” centers on the freedom that new forms of drama show and all the ways in which past writing can feed them – from Rostand to Emily Dickinson. As a combat-tested Marine, McAvoy takes on the role of commander of this smart, stylish company, a dignified rearmament of a war horse, if ever there was one.

Cyrano de Bergerac, by Edmond Rostand in a new version of Martin Crimp. Directed by Jamie Lloyd. Set design and costumes, Soutra Gilmour; lighting, Jon Clark; composition and sound, Ben and Max Ringham. With Tom Edden, Vaneeka Dadhria, Adrian Der Gregorian, Nima Taleghani. About 2 hours 45 minutes. Through May 22 at BAM Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton St., Brooklyn. bam.org.

American Buffalo, by David Mamet. Directed by Neil Pepe. Set, Scott Pask; costumes, Dede Ayite; lighting, Tyler Micoleau. About 1 hour and 40 minutes. Through July 10 at Circle in the Square, 235 W. 50th St., New York. telecharge.com.

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