note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Sheila Barth
When Gerald Sibleyras wrote his one-act play, “Le Vent des Peupliers,” in 2003, it instantly achieved success in Europe, where it garnered several awards, and its success continued in such countries as Uruguay. A few years ago, renowned playwright-author-translator-screenwriter Tom Stoppard adapted the play - he didn’t translate it, we’re told - and when it premiered in 2006 at the Wyndham Theater in London, it won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy. “Heroes” has been racking up credits since then, and is expected to be performed in Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Finland, and other areas of the world.
What makes this play so appealing isn’t its plot. It relies on the acting ability and interpretation of its sole three actors. At Merrimack Repertory Theater, veteran co-stars Jonathan Hogan and Ron Holgate, who have reprised their roles in the New York-Keen Company production, are aided by Chelsea native and equally talented Ken Tigar, who is the catalyst here. The trio is aptly directed by Carl Forsman, who also directed the New York show.
One wouldn‘t think that listening to three old codgers who are decorated World War I veterans and confined to a veterans home in France in 1959 would be stimulating, but with Tigar, (who has made it big on TV and on stage), portraying Henri, the pragmatic gent “with 1-1/2 legs,” he jokes; silver fox Ron Holgate as blustery, aristocratic, yet seemingly agoraphobic Gustave; and Jonathan Hogan as soft-spoken, affable Philippe, who has shrapnel on the brain and is subject to increasingly more frequent blackout “spells,” or flashbacks, they weave magic. It isn’t what they say, but how they say it, and their interaction.
As the three sit on their own little hideaway corner of the world, a small, cozy terrace with a 200-pound stone statue of a dog, they ruminate, complain, wish, dream, support and argue. They are well-dressed, their shoes shined as slick as when they were in the military 40 years earlier. Gustave, who insists on being the stalwart leader, still bears his military stature, standing ramrod straight while gruffly issuing orders. Gustave’s mild-mannered foil, Philippe, is convinced that nun-in-charge, Sister Madeline , kills everyone who shares a birthday, and that his days are numbered since a healthy new resident with the same birthday arrived, thus signaling his demise.
But Henri sees the bright side of things and takes daily constitutionals, or walks, outside the grounds, to the village, inspiring his cohorts to do likewise. The story takes a big turn when the three decide they’ll leave the confines of the veterans’ home, scale the hill beyond the poplar trees that are visible from their terrace, and take one last stab at life and adventure, despite their maladies. Planning their escape invigorates them - for awhile - until Henri, acting as mediator between Gustave and Philippe, (whom Tigar says are clearly out of their minds), wavers between compliant optimist to utlimate voice of reason.
Beowulf Boritt’s handsome set provides the perfect setting here.
BOX INFO: One-act, 90-minute play written by Gerald Sibleyras, adapted by Tom Stoppard, directed by Carl Forsman playing through December 13 at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre, 50 E. Merrimack St., Lowell. Tickets are $26-$56, with senior, student and group discounts available. Showtimes, Dec. 2,3,9,10, at 7:30 p.m.; Dec, 4,11, at 8 p.m.; Dec. 5,12, at 4,8 p.m.; Dec, 6, at 2,7p.m.; and Dec. 13 at 2 p.m.Post-show forum with actors, Dec. 3,10. For more information or reservations, visit www.MerrimackRep.org or call 978-654-4678.