Inmates make for the most interesting bedfellows and nowhere more so than in Tom Stoppard’s Heroes. This (2005) translation of Gérald Sibleyras’ play is a story of French veterans who create intriguing (and in one case; unnatural) alliances. At first glance these men have only two things in common; they are veterans and they live in a veterans’ home. But as the (quite funny) play unfolds we discover their shared threads and the ties that bind.
The men; Gustave (Jonathan Epstein,) Phillipe (Malcom Ingram,) and Henri (Robert Lohbauer) are fully formed and complex characters whose rapid exchange of one-liners and bon mots are entirely believable. A three person play devoid of bells and whistles hinges upon the believability and artistry of the players. Deftly directed by Kevin G. Coleman these actors inhabit their roles so completely an distinctly as to set a production standard.
Gustave, Henri and Phillipe are battle scarred, yet they are not bound by their wounds. Henri, who has inexplicably chosen to live in the rest home for twenty five years, is actually the most physically adventurous of the three. Phillipe, who spends as much time unconscious (due to skull shrapnel) as he does conscious, wants desperately to stay alive. And Gustave, dear aristocratic, rigid, scathing Gustave is besotted by a bronze dog.
These men would never have socialized on the outside. (Their carefully executed variations of a British accentt indicate their class distinctions.) Yet like the soldiers they once were, they are together in the trenches with a common enemy; Sister Madelene. It is this alliance and their allegiance to each other (and the dog) that make theirs a story worth telling. It is the honesty of their connection that is compelling. Which is why, without the spot on performances of these three actors the play could slide into Grumpy Old Men (+1) sentimentality.
The final moment of this production is proof of that temptation. The actors are directed to climb atop chairs and emulate flight. It was an inconsistent choice for such an honest production.
Heroes is playing at Shakespeare & Company (Lenox, MA) until September 1st.