It’s 1959. Two veterans of the Great War sit in silence.
HENRI: I love the month of August
GUSTAVE: I knew it couldn’t last, the world was at peace, and you had to share with us your passion for the month of August… If months were days of the week August would be Sunday, a paltry, pointless affair.
The Guns of August, Barbara Tuchman’s masterpiece of popular history, details the events leading up to August 1914, the beginning of World War I. The early months of World War I saw the most deadly battles of human history, yet today the conflict is seen as a manifestation of Beckettian futility: a massive waste of human resources and energy, of human life: perhaps, a metaphor for life itself. The human-scale impact of the war forms the backdrop of Tom Stoppard’s HEROES, a translation of Gerard Sibleyras’s Le vent des peupliers (“The wind in the poplars”) now in a lightly entertaining production by Lantern Theater Company.
In the sunset of theirs lives, three French veterans bear scars from the days when they came of age. Henri (Peter DeLaurier) lost his leg, Philippe (Mal Whyte) suffers seizures caused by shrapnel in his brain, Gustave (Dan Kern) is socially inept outside the comfort of the shared terrace of a nursing home and suffering from a creeping dementia. Once heroes, the men now do very little except stare at the wind running through a distant stand of poplars and plot an unlikely expedition there. (Nick Embree’s fitting set evokes a country cemetery—ivy-covered fences, a bench which looks like an open stone coffin.)
In another Stoppard play, two hours of their inactivity might be enlivened with fast-paced wit. But HEROES is rarely more than gently humorous, whether because Stoppard is constrained by the original French play or by his aged characters, or because M. Craig Getting’s direction lacks a punch of timing. (The three actors are superb at molding their characters, but their interactions suffered from a geriatric pacing in the opening night performance: this might be one to see late in the run.)
The play is rich in allegory—about the futility of struggle, about aging and approaching death—and the alternating pleasing and sickly sentimentality culminates in a surprisingly touching ending, but the drama is as quiet as an old aged home. It’s like a meandering stroll with three pleasant old men: never exciting, but not without charm. May 16 to June 16, 2013. lanterntheater.org.
Kathryn Osenlund’s review for CurtainUp: “winsome production”
Deb Miller’s take for Stage: “funny and profound and fully relatable”
Previous Phindie articles on Lantern Theater Company.