note: entire contents copyright 1995 by Larry Stark
Written by Stephen MacDonald Directed by Polly Hogan Music and Sound by Alan Laing Set Design by Scott Jeffrey McCaffrey Costume Design by Katherine Baldwin Sound Design by Al Fairbrother Visual Effects by Sheila Ferrini Stage Manager Michele Keith at THE LYRIC STAGE through 4 February 140 Clarendon Street, BOSTON 1(617)437-7172
The last act of "Not About Heroes" concerns the last year in the life of Leftenant Wilfred Owen, a poet who died a week before the Armistice during World War I. The first centers on his four months' stay in Craiglockhart Hospital, Edinburg, where one hundred and fifty British officers were treated for shell-shock. The play documents Owen's growing friendship with Captain Siegfried Sassoon, his mentor in poetry, in bravery, and in outraged revulsion at the pig-headed slaughter that was trench warfare.
This is a meticulously researched, delicately constructed play in which the two men's poems, their letters to one another and Owen's to his mother are liberally, lovingly quoted. The men's mutual respect and admiration, Sassoon's encouraging recognition of Owen's talent, and the younger man's emerging greatness are played out against glimpses of their harrowing battlefield memories and their fierce opposition to a war they both returned to with embittered, courageous, disillusioned distinction.
But, aside from slides of war-photographs and mistings of memory in Sheila Ferrini's visual effects, and the few bits of furniture and props scattered about Scott McCaffrey's set, the play consists of two actors facing one another on a stage. And director Polly Hogan is lucky to have two experienced, dedicated actors who played the roles for her six years ago at the Lyric.
Both characters go through profound changes in almost imperceptible degrees. David Fox's Owen starts boyish, stammering, hero-worshipping and full of hesitant self deprecation. He fairly shouts his joy in letters home at even the slightest praise. Then, as he learns to trust Sassoon's warming enthusiastic encouragement, the most powerful poet of the First World War slowly comes to full flower.
It's Sassoon's humanity that blossoms here. Steve McConnell starts him as a haughty, cool, defensive upper-class twit. It's his generous perception of Owen's potential, and their work on the words, that melts that ramrod-stiff reserve, alowing an eventual honesty to ennoble both men.
As in the play, this is not a contest for attention, but a generous intraction in which neither of the actors, but the play itself wins. The obvious contributions of the designers, the musicians, the stage manager, the director, even the actors themselves are ultimately invisible. What remains is simply two men, facing each other on a stage.