Directing the comedy is Kevin G. Coleman, Shakespeare & Company actor/educator/director, and he utilizes the talents of three eminently skilled actors to everyone's advantage. This very much included an opening night audience filled with patrons who laughed loudly and often.
The men each served in World War I and they are now formulating schemes to escape from the clutches of one Sister Madeleine, the in-charge nun who runs her home with an iron fistso we are led to believe. Philippe identifies her as enemy #1. The very terse Gustave appears to be constantly irritated and claims he could leave the place whenever he wishes. Philippe retains shrapnel (from the war) in his skull. Thus, he is prone to faint and/or collapse frequently. This white-haired gent has it in, generally speaking, for women. Rotund Henri, toting a cane since he limps, nevertheless tours the grounds and finds a lanky young woman he gazes toward and admires from afar. He brings word of her long limbs back to his cohorts.
While Henri imagines a sunnier side to life, Gustave (despite himself) is actually fearful when it comes to journeying, while Philippe could suffer a blackout at any moment. Still, all think they can find their way to the Poplar trees in the distance and subsequent freedom. Additionally, there is a brown and bronze fourth character on stage: a statue of a dog. Gustave insists that the dog, to whom the characters refer, will make the trip.
Set designer Patrick Brennan provides a terrace with a white outdoor table and chairs, a long bench, and rear windows bordered with scuffed frames. When the play begins, costumer Esther Van Eek dresses Gustave in a dark, formal suit, Phillip in lighter, sportier clothing, and Henri, too, in a suit. Wardrobe changes occur during intermission of the two hour performance.
Yes, this is autumn of their lifetimes but these men are vital and excitable. Further, the current situation agitates and fires them up. One surmises that Stoppard, the translator, might have injected something into the script as he translated. An earlier production, staged in 2006 in England, won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy. Shakespeare & Company honors that with enthusiastic, rousing performances from three top quality actors. Director and actors pay close attention to detail and impressive timing is a must.
Epstein, who has starred and captivated in many Shakespeares and other genres in the Berkshires and elsewhere, once again establishes himself as a major force. Ingram, with credits on Broadway, in western Massachusetts, and in the United Kingdom, oftentimes steals this show. Lohbauer, terrific in Mengelberg and Mahler a few seasons ago at Shakespeare & Company, once again shows his fine versatility. As an ensemble, this group is especially sharp.
During its second portion, Heroes from time to time includes more pensive and touching moments, none more true than its finale. For the most part, however, this is crackling comedy. Levity has its way and carries the evening.
Heroes continues at the Elayne P. Bernstein theater on the grounds of Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts, through September 1st. For tickets, call (413) 637-3353 or visit www.shakespeare.org.
- Fred Sokol