By Gerald Sibleyras
Translated by Tom Stoppard
Directed by James Bohnen
Produced by Remy Bumppo think theatre
Smart, stinging, and saucy comedy a tour de force for three veteran actors.
“I say we go…up that hill, where the poplars are. There where the wind blows…it’s not a bad halfway between Indochina and a picnic.” – Heroes
Remy Bumppo Theatre Company, under James Bohnen light touch, have mounted a heart warming comedy filled with three of the most lovable characters. This is both a ‘buddy’ play and a comedy of manners involving three seniors confined to a soldiers’ retirement home.
It’s 1959 and Philippe (Roderick Peeples), Gustave (David Darlow) and Henri (Mike Nussbaum), three veterans of WWI keep each other company on the back terrace of a retired soldiers’ home in France. The three seniors (each born in the late 19th Century) suffer from physical and psychological wounds from the horrific trench warfare in their native France.
Philippe suffers constant blackouts; Gustave has become afraid to leave the home while Henri is content with his daily routine after 25 years in the home. The three banter, argue and plot mischief or should I say all four since Philippe and Gustave acknowledge the stone statue of a life-sized dog as another companion?
Through a clever translation of Gerald Sibleyras’ play by Tom Stoppard, Heros is witty, darkly comic yet filled with pathos. In the hands of three of the finest actors in Chicago, it is a heart-warming funny work. I’ve not seen finer comedic timing than that exhibited by Mike Nussbaum, David Darlow and Roderick Peeples. The three are so natural, so truthful and so relaxed that the charm, the angst, the vulnerability, and the pathos emanates from each deftly. Through a series of witty scenes, each man goads the others to seek new adventures. The aim is to both pass the time as much as to keep their spirit alive.
Their camaraderie pushes them to their level of endurance as they plot to escape to Indochina. They settle for a trip to the poplar trees on the distant hill they see from their terrace. This deeply human work is bittersweet, yet hilarious as the three reminisce as much as their failing memories allow. We realize that these old soldiers are “not going gently into that good night.”
It is such a joy to witness such skilled stage craftsman at work! Roderick Peeples (much too young) was outstanding while David Darlow effortlessly nails his part with the ease of a real pro. But Mike Nussbaum finally gets to play someone his real age (85) and he does so with the zest, with spirit , and adroit aplomb. Nussbaum is an ageless Chicago icon and a masterful actor. He is a treasure to behold. Heroes will hold you for the entire 90 minutes as you laugh and cry with the foibles of these three eccentric old soldiers.
At the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL, call 773-404-7336, www.remybumppo.org, tickets $35 -$45, Wednesday thur Saturday at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2:30 pm, Wednesday matinées at 2 pm Oct 28 & Nov 11, running time is 90 minutes without intermission.