If I was going to pitch “Heroes” as a television show, I’d say that it was “Seinfeld,” set in an old soldiers’ home.
The play—written originally in French as “Le Vent des Peupliers,” or “The Wind in the Poplars,” by Géreald Sibleyras and translated into English by Tom Stoppard—is a funny, quirky sketch about nothing. Well, not nothing, as the three characters—Gustave, Philippe and Henri—have goals to achieve. But, like Jerry, George and Kramer (let’s exclude Elaine here, as she’s not only female but she always struck me as the most driven of the quartet of friends), these three men are hopelessly caught up in the minutiae of their lives, with entertaining results.
Set in August 1959, on the terrace of an old soldiers’ home, the 100-minute play (no intermission, which this reviewer absolutely loves!) tells the story of a trio of veterans who seek to rise above their limitations. Mr. Stoppard’s 2005 adaptation was the winner of London’s prestigious Olivier Award for Best New Comedy. The play earned four Molière nominations when the original opened in Paris in 2003.
Crabby Gustav, played by Tom Gustin in this Hampton Theatre Company production, has little to enjoy and much to complain about. He’s sick and tired of celebrating the birthdays of his fellow “prisoners” and feeling as if he’s being held captive in a retirement home for First World War veterans. Though he’s a relative newcomer (less than a year in residence), he’s already plotting his escape.
Philippe, played by George Lozides, is randy, paranoid and a smidge neurotic—to comic result. Due to a piece of shrapnel lodged in his brain, he’s experiencing a physical state akin to narcolepsy—passing out every five or 10 minutes and waking up confused and mumbling about what one would assume to be military maneuvers.
Though he’s been ensconced in his comfortable confinement the longest—more than two decades—Henri, played by Cyrus Newitt, is an eternal optimist. He’s fairly content to sit on the patio and take his daily constitutional around the grounds of the property.
“He’s happy here, that’s the only thing I’ve got against him,” Gustav says of Henri.
The three get into a snit when they learn that construction will be taking place on a nearby terrace, which will force them to share what they have claimed as their own private domain. Gustav, the most physically capable (as he likes to point out often) of the three, takes charge. He enlists his fellow veterans to revolt with him and take a voyage to French Indochina.
Henri, who needs a cane to walk, thinks the idea is absurd. Though optimistic, he’s also the pragmatist of the bunch. He suggests a picnic instead of a continent-hopping journey, which is met with derision by Gustave.
Phillipe, who has been encamped at the old soldiers’ home for 10 years after choosing to leave his sister’s house (her husband was a boor) is skeptical but he eventually rises to the challenge. Well, that is, in between increasingly frequent bouts of consciousness loss and delusions that a statue of a dog is out to get him.
As is true with many French dramas, the plot is dark and existential, yet brightly amusing. Director Andrew Botsford does a fine job keeping the levity on the front burner as these moribund gentleman natter on about their glory days, ennui-filled present and futile future.
On Sunday afternoon, “Heroes” played to a packed house, which is always nice to see. The audience seemed to appreciate the physical humor—absurdly and charmingly played to great effect–and the bawdy bits the most.
Though this was the most stripped-down set I have ever seen at the Quogue Community Hall, it was just perfect, par usual. Great job on set and lighting design James Ewing and Sebastian Paczynski. Well done also on costumes and stage management to Teresa Lebrun and John Zaleski.
Bottom line: No matter the obstacles, “Heroes” lives to fight another day.
“Heroes” stages through Sunday, January 26, at the Quogue Community Hall. Show times are Thursdays and Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 for adults, $23 for seniors and $10 for students under 21. Senior discounts are not available on Saturday nights.
The Hampton Theatre Company is also offering special dinner and theater packages in collaboration with the Southampton, Westhampton Beach, Hampton Bays and Quogue libraries. For more information, or to book reservations, visit hamptontheatre.org or call OvationTix at (866) 811-4111.