I can’t imagine any more pleasant way of spending an early autumn evening than with the three old gentlemen who make up the cast of Heroes. It’s the first production of a new and very promising company, Albion Theatre, in the Kranzberg Black Box, and it’s a gentle, easy-going evening, peppered with laughs but with a touch of sadness always hovering nearby.
The time is 1959. The three men are veterans of World War I, living out their last days in a veterans home. Henri, who lost a leg to the war, has been there 25 years. Philippe, who carries a piece of shrapnel in his head that causes him to black out at increasingly frequent intervals, has been there 10 years. Gustave, the bold aristocrat who collapses into a quivering bundle of nerves at the thought of leaving the safety of the institution’s grounds, is a newcomer of six months. But they bicker with each other and support each other like old married folks. Each day, they find something to occupy their time – Henri reads a book, Philippe reads a newspaper, Gustave complains, together they plan one last military assault up a hill to a grove of poplars. It passes the time while they wait. They remind me of the tramps in Waiting for Godot, who also find ways to occupy their days while they wait. But the old veterans know who their Godot is, and know that he will come, some day. He’s Death.
Gerald Sibleyras wrote the French original of Heroes. Tom Stoppard did the English translation. I haven’t read the French, so I don’t know if it’s as clever as Stoppard’s translation. Heroes may not sparkle as brilliantly as Stoppard’s most brilliant works, but it has his touch, and in this play, that’s just the right amount of sparkle.
The Albion cast plays it with just the right amount of sparkle. David Wassilak’s Henri is solid and sensible, with still a relish for life that sends him off for a daily stroll and a greeting to a pretty young school teacher. Will Shaw’s reserved Gustave becomes boyishly eager as they plot their adventure. Isaiah De Lorenzo turns Philippe’s frequent, sudden, and alarming faints and his paranoia about birthdays into running gags that extend his warmly sympathetic character.
Robert Ashton directs with an eye for some lovely touches, and he leads his cast to a well-paced, relaxed tempo. Brad Slavik’s spare set marks the outline of the patio where the men assemble with a low railing, and adds a bench, two chairs, and a solid sculpture of a handsome dog, considered by the men a fourth member of their circle, who moves about the patio almost as much as the men do. Set painting and graphics are by Marjorie Williamson. Brief breaks between each of the six scenes allows time for the men to make changes in Tracey Newcombe’s costumes as time passes; Gustave’s become noticeably more casual as he settles in at the home. Lighting is by Nathan Schroeder, sound by Robin Weatherall, and all is coordinated by stage manager Gwynneth Rausch.
Albion’s Heroes has a lovely autumnal quality, as the geese fly south.
—Bob WilcoxPhoto by John Lamb
From left, David Wassilak, Will Shaw, and Isaiah De Lorenzo in Heroes.