The Hampton Theatre Company’s latest production, Heroes by Gerald Sibleyras and translated by Tom Stoppard, is a funny, poignant look at aging, mortality and the passage of time.
Directed by Andrew Botsford and starring Tom Gustin, George A. Loizides and Cyrus Newitt as three French World War I veterans who pass the time at their veterans home by reminiscing about the past and plotting elaborate, implausible escape plans, Heroes’ leisurely pace and lack of intermission may make some audiences a little antsy at first, but the compelling performances and Botsford’s strong, assured direction ensure things never get dull.
Taking place in the summer of 1959 on the quiet terrace of a French veterans home, Heroes tells the story of Gustav (Gustin), Phillipe (Loizides) and Henri (Newitt), three decorated veterans who have forged a comfortable, familiar friendship despite different backgrounds and (wildly) different personalities. Henri, who has been at the veterans home for 25 years, loves to discuss the daily goings-on of the home, gossiping about Sister Madeleine, the veterans’ very own (off-stage) “Nurse Ratched.” Phillipe, often confused due to a piece of shrapnel in his head that causes him to pass out at a moment’s notice and call out mysterious commands he must have had from the war, has been there 10 years and is convinced that Sister Madeleine kills veterans based on their birthday so she doesn’t have to give two birthday parties a day. Gustav, constantly rolling his eyes and complaining, has only been at the home for six months and appears to be the most “together” of the group — until he begins to bond with the dog statue that sits on the terrace with them. Sister Madeleine’s presence drives much of the action of the play; Phillipe is convinced that she’s going to kill him when a younger, more distinguished veteran moves in and shares his birthday. Gustav, who has been looking for an excuse to escape the home, uses this as an opportunity to coax Phillipe and Henri into a complicated, silly scheme to run.
Watching the the daily lives of three sad, dependent older men who have had their freedom taken from them runs the risk of being depressing and downbeat, but Botsford and the actors keep things light. Early on, when the three get word that a fellow veteran has committed suicide, sighs and sad “oohs” could be heard from the audience; after a brief pause, though, Phillipe scowls and accuses Sister Madeleine of murder, prompting the audience into relieved laughter.
Loizides, Newitt and Gustin have great chemistry with each other and clearly understand their characters and the world they inhabit. Gustin is particularly strong as the amusingly unhinged Gustav, whose hilarious friendship with the stone dog is contrasted by his apprehension to socialize with anyone other than Phillipe and Henri. One of his strongest moments comes late in the play when Henri accuses Gustav of being afraid of the outside world, prompting him to show his vulnerable side. Newitt makes a great impression as the optimistic Henri, his increasing exasperation at his two comrades providing many laugh-out-loud moments. And Loizides shows a talent for physical comedy as Phillipe passes out at the most inopportune times.
The set, a simple stone terrace laced with ivy, is nicely realized by set designer James Ewing and set decorator Diana Marbury. Musical interludes between scenes nicely represent the passage of time, and Botsford nails the time period of the piece. By the end of the evening, audiences will feel very much connected to the world and characters that have come to life onstage, and the touching conclusion is a real crowd-pleaser.
Heroes, directed by Andrew Botsford, runs through January 26 at the Hampton Theatre Company, 125 Jessup Avenue, Quogue. For tickets and more information, call 631-653-8955 or go to hamptontheatre.org.