Everyman Theatre’s production of Heroes, by Gerald Sibleyras and adapted by Tom Stoppard, is the story of three old men—Henri (John Dow), the perpetual optimist with the bum leg, Gustave (Wil Love), the crusty, aristocratic agoraphobe, and Philippe (Carl Schurr), whose war wound has turned him into a narcoleptic—sitting on the terrace of a French home for retired World War I veterans in 1959. Not, you might think, the ideal setting for a comedy; the Great War, after all, left Europe in shambles, literally decimated the population of France, and invented what Gertrude Stein called the “lost generation.” But Heroes is at once poignant, brilliant, and perpetually hilarious.
Imagine, if you will, three senior citizens staring attentively at a stone dog, waiting to see it move. One tries to navigate an ocean swell on the hard marble of the terrace; another, clad in a beret with full military decoration, devises an outing over the next hill (with dog in tow, of course). In preparation for their outing, they tie each other together with a hose.
…well-acted, perfectly choreographed, visually stunning, bittersweet, funny, and altogether human.
They argue, call each other names, engage in discussions about women, nuns, poplars—and seldom, if ever, talk about the one definitive thing they have in common: the war.
Scenic designer James Fouchard did a fantastic job. I came into the theatre expecting the best (Times Stands Still, the last play I saw at Everyman, had pretty much an exact replica of a New York loft up on stage) and was not disappointed. The set has the feel of a glorious, sunny French villa—faded marble columns, ivy trellises, and wicker chairs. The edifice, presumably the back terrace of the home, is framed by painted rows of poplar trees. With soft, golden light, the whole place is like a haven of rustic charm, an ideal contrast for the gloomy trenches where our protagonists spent some of their early years.
As far as acting goes, all three men were consummate professionals, and very well cast. Schurr’s comedic timing was nigh perfect; his character’s many sudden drops into unconsciousness spawned peals of laughter from the audience. Dow was especially funny when discussing a young schoolmarm in the neighboring village, channeling a schoolboy’s sense of romance, while Love provided some of the most moving parts of the play, expressing fear and pride with a heartbreaking fluency.
My one criticism for this play—which tends to be a perpetual criticism on my part—was the full blackout between scenes. Though somewhat mitigated by the elegant French music wafting through the air, the blackouts still left me staring into total darkness for half a minute at a time, without anything to look at. Compared to the splendor of the full-lit stage, it was incredibly disconcerting.
All in all, Heroes was wonderfully done, and extremely entertaining to watch. It’s an excellent performance to end Everyman’s run at the Charles St. Theatre—well-acted, perfectly choreographed, visually stunning, bittersweet, funny, and altogether human. While the downtown location likely has a few more bells and whistles than this converted bowing alley, Heroes is a testament to the good work that Everyman has done, and will continue to do in the future.
Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.
Heroes is playing at Everyman Theatre, 1727 North Charles St, in Baltimore, MD through December 2, 2012. For tickets call 410-752-2208 or click here.