Saturday, March 14, 2009

Review: Heroes


Jonathan Hogan, Ron Holgate and John Cullum. Photo by Theresa Squire.
An Offensive on Old Age

By Lauren Yarger
Three WWI veterans battle to pull off one last offensive, ostensibly to take a hill and a group of poplar tress they can see in the distance, but in truth, the siege is one last assault against old age in Keen Company’s production of Heroes at the Clurman Theatre, Off Broadway.

Henri (John Cullum), Gustave (Ron Holgate) and Philippe (Jonathan Hogan) fall into a convenient camaraderie as residents of a veterans' home in 1959 France. They visit each day on “their” terrace, created by scenic designer Beowolf Boritt.

Gustave, pompous and a little miffed that the others don’t recognize his superior pedigree, pretends he is a fearless leader, but in truth, has been afraid to venture past the front gate of the grounds. He finds companionship in a stone statue of dog on the terrace. Philippe suffers from frequent fainting spells, the result of shrapnel remnants. He thinks he sees the dog moving and is convinced that the nun in charge of the retirement home is trying to kill him. Henri tries to keep the peace while enjoying his “daily constitutional,” a walk to catch a glimpse of the head of a young girls’ school nearby. He’s too shy to skrike up a conversation with her, though.

Spurred into action by the suicide of the home’s oldest resident and by the rumor that their terrace may soon be invaded by other residents, Gustave tries to incite his brothers in war to join him in a daring escape to Indochina. Henri suggests a picnic on the grounds as a more practical alternative. The men plan a defensive including rigging the terrace with barbed wire and machine guns. When that doesn’t seem practical, they finally agree to make a run for the stand of poplars on top a hill where they dream of standing free “where the wind blows.”

The play, written by Gerald Sibleyras and translated by Tom Stoppard, is full of good humor. A running joke about the dog remains funny throughout and builds to an unexpected punch line. A scene where the four tie themselves together in preparation for their hike is endearing. The men are likable and we feel like we want to pull up a garden chair and join them for an afternoon on the terrace.

The character development is deftly handled by the playwright. Interestingly, we don’t know a whole lot about these men. They all dress in three-piece suits, differing only in their selection of tie (Theresa Squire, costumes) and Henri’s display of a few medals. We learn Philippe has a sister and an obnoxious brother-in-law, with whom Gustave corresponds in Philippe’s stead. He wanted to be a concert pianist, but passing out frequently “was a handicap.” Gustave’s wife left him for a pharmacist and Henri wanted to be a picture framer once.

The lack of backstory is significant, because we come to understand that it really doesn’t matter what the details of their lives were, because the point is, that for the most part, the best part of their lives is over and they all now share an existence defined by old age. Gustave doesn’t attend a party for one of the residents and finds that no one missed him. Philippe has a fainting spell and falls into the open grave at a funeral, a metaphor of what they all fear: being gone and not missed.

It’s a touching story delivered by three skilled actors with years of stage experience amongst them. As they are directed through the emotions of complacency, hope, fear and resilience by Carl Forsman, we find ourselves really routing for them to make it up the hill.

Heroes runs at the Clurman Theatre, 410 West 42nd St. (between 9th and 10th), NY through April 11. For tickets call 212-279-4200 or visit www.KeenCompany.org.

Christians might also like to know:
Minor language
Minor sexual dialogue

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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