Review: WWI “Heroes” Yearn for One More Adventure at Shakespeare & Company [Berkshire on Stage]
Larry Murray: In what has to be a masterclass in stagecraft, three of Shakespeare & Company’s best actors don their fraying medals and Sunday best to rendezvous on the terrace of their retirement home to relive the good old days, and to find something in the day that makes life worth living. The trio consists of Jonathan Epstein as Gustave, Robert Lohbauer as Henri and Malcolm Ingram as Phillipe. As survivors of World War I they nevertheless each suffered grievous injuries, and they deal with them rather than complain about their fate. They seem to be devoid of any meaningful family connections.
Gail M.Burns: Despite the fact that they are living in the small community of a veterans’ home, and probably in fairly tight quarters too, these three men have isolated themselves and staked out their territory on a small terrace at the back of the building. It is their refuge from the indignities of communal life. We learn that Henri has been there the longest – 25 years – Philippe has been there for a decade, and Gustave is a relative newcomer. The year is 1959, and so it is a quiet time in the world. Even television wasn’t ubiquitous back then.
Larry: It was both a treat to see these great actors working together so well, and hard work to penetrate the basic conceit of Le Vent des Peupliers (The Wind in the Poplars) by the French playwright Gérald Sibleyras, which, in the translation by Tom Stoppard became Heroes. There was some fear that calling it The Wind in the Poplars would confuse an English world already exposed to the title The Wind in the Willows. But it is not at all similar to that tale, though the story concept is familiar. Did it remind you of a similar play?
Gail: From the moment I heard of this play I thought of the phenomenally long-running British television series Last of the Summer Wine (1973-2010) – seen here on many PBS stations. Then people pointed out that the characters were French World War I veterans in a sanatorium, not British pensioners on a perpetual lark around their Yorkshire village, but once I had seen Heroes I continued to see a through line of how men cope with the bittersweet impotence of impending old age and inevitable death.