Three military veterans learn that the battlefield is not the only place where courage is needed in Heroes, the gentle comedy that just opened at Stage West.
Henri (David Coffee), Gustave (Cliff Stephens) and Philippe (Jim Covault) are World War I vets living in a retirement home in 1959 in this play written by French dramatist Gerald Sibleyras and translated by famous British playwright Sir Tom Stoppard.
All were a bit damaged in the War to End All Wars, so they do not do very much. They mainly just talk and argue about their fellow inmates as they sit on a terrace they have claimed as their own. About the only physical action is provided by Philippe, who passes out on a regular basis thanks to a piece of shrapnel in his head.
In addition to their chatting and squabbling, the old gentlemen also enjoy the view their terrace offers. They pay scant attention to the cemetery closest to their outlook, choosing instead to aim their gazes at the poplar trees swaying in the breeze on a distant hill (the original title was Le Vent des Peupliers, which translates literally as The Wind in the Poplars).
This may sound like watching paint dry, but that is certainly not the case. This beautifully written play from 2003 (which is receiving its regional premiere here) never fails to hold your attention thanks to an incredible cast and deft direction by Dana Schultes.
Coffee, Stephens and Covault, who also serves as artistic and co-producing director at Stage West, are three of the finest actors in our area. Watching them play off one another is nothing short of magical.
Covault does an exceptional job of managing the movements he needs to play a character so much older than himself. Coffee, who can be guilty of wearing his technique on his sleeve, tones it down a bit to make his Henri highly believable. Stephens, who seems to be absolutely perfect in every role he plays, keeps that stellar record clean with this performance.
Directing this trio must have been a dream for Schultes. She probably never had to deliver a single note on acting but, to her credit, she did not phone in her contribution.
It is obvious that Schultes put a lot of effort into thoughtfully moving her characters around on the stage to prevent things from becoming stagnant, without ever seeming forced. She has created an easy, logically flowing environment where these three actors can be comfortable and do their best.
Finally, Covault’s set design is splendid. It is simple, gorgeous and highly workable — a space ideally suited to the script, the cast and the direction.
The only odd thing about the production is the use of British accents. What is the rationale behind having three American actors playing French war veterans speak like characters on Downton Abbey? Having Stoppard as the translator does not make this show British. It is the only thing about this production that does not make sense.
So, not much happens in Heroes. But you are likely to find that this sweet and witty script, so well presented by cast and crew, will keep you fully engaged as you share the dreams of three men whose heroism is measured by their undying desire to take that next hill, long after the guns have fallen silent.
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