Regional Reviews: San Diego
Also see Bill's review of Hair
British playwright Tom Stoppard translated and adapted Gérald Sibleyras' 2002 play, Le Vent De Peupliers, into English and in the process won an Olivier Award for Best New Comedy. Of course, as San Diego audiences learned from the Old Globe's production of Rafta, Rafta ... earlier this year, British tastes in comedy do not always export well.
Heroes chronicles the conversations, some lucid, some not so, of three World War I veterans who hang out together in 1959 on a terrace in an old soldier's home. Gustave is all bluster. He goads the others and dazzles them with the potential of new conquests (a trip to Indochina or, failing that, up to the poplar trees on the distant hill). Despite his bravado, Gustave only socializes with his two comrades and spends much of his time in his room. He also has befriended the stone statue of a dog that sits on the terrace. Henri is a bit more mobile and somewhat less tolerant of his companions. He is forever going out for his "constitutional." Phillippe has a piece of shrapnel in his head that causes him to faint at inconvenient moments. He always awakens exclaiming, "Let's take them from the rear, Captain." Phillippe also believes that he sees the stone dog move from time to time.
You may have guessed from this description that the humor is mostly dry (as is customary with Mr. Stoppard) but it is also very French. While there's no banging of doors, the overall tone is farcical and thus precise timing is necessary to land the gags.
North Coast Rep has assembled a stellar cast for this production. Ken Ruta (Gustave) was a founding company member of the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, an associate artist at the Old Globe, and a long-time company member at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theatre and the Arizona Theatre Company. He also appeared on Broadway. I have a particularly fond memory of Mr. Ruta's King Lear, which I saw at the Old Globe in 1973.
Jonathan McMurtry (Phillippe) has a more than 50 year association with the Old Globe, acting there in over 200 productions, many of them part of the company's annual summer Shakespeare Festival. He is also a recipient of the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle's lifetime achievement award.
Ray Reinhardt (Henri) was a founding company member of the American Conservatory Theatre, and he performed there for 29 years. I am not familiar with Mr. Reinhardt's work, but he has played Cyrano de Bergerac and includes it in his bio, and that is enough to earn my respect.
Unfortunately, on opening night all three performers were still struggling to meld their talents and master the comic timing necessary to pull off a story that could easily become maudlin. There were some individually excellent moments, and every so often the group would click with each other. These men are pros, so perhaps with some additional playing them they will have audiences in stitches.
Director David Ellenstein provided a realistic production for Heroes. The company has resident designers (Marty Burnett, scenic design; Matt Novotny, lighting design; Chis Luessmann, sound design) who know the space well, and they have done their customary first-rate work. They were joined by Renetta Lloyd, who created different degrees of formality for the men's costumes.
The production runs through November 13 at 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach. Tickets ($32-$49) may be purchased at the theatre box office, by calling (858) 481-1055, or by visiting www.northcoastrep.org.
North Coast Repertory Theatre presents Heroes, by Tom Stoppard, adapted from Gérald Sibleyras' Le Vent De Peupliers. Directed by David Ellenstein with scenic design by Marty Burnett, light design by Matt Novotny, costume design by Renetta Lloyd, sound design by Chris Luessmann; John Finkbiner, scenic artist, Aaron Rumley, stage manager, and Cindy Khoury, production assistant.
With Jonathan McMurtry, Ray Reinhardt, Ken Ruta, and Jim Chovick (understudy).
Follow Bill on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SDBillEadie.