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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review

Visiting Shakespeare & Company's Heroes Mid-Run
by Elyse Sommer

Though Curtainup has reviewed Tom Stoppard's translation of Heroes is a gift to three actors and stellar trios have grabbed that gift repeatedly. Curtainup has reviewed a bunch of ensembles but somehow I wasn't the one seeing and reviewing it at any time. My worthy colleagues' opinions ran the gamut from one negative to ecstatic, and since Gloria Miller's critique of the still running Shakespeare & Company production put her with the yea sayers, I decided to take advantage of a free evening and catch up with Jonathan Epstein, Malcolm Ingram and Robert Lobhauer, three of the company's best and most seasoned thespians. And I'm glad I did.

While everyone who wrote about the play mentioned the humor, I had no idea just how funny this was. Sure it's basically a sad tale about the impossibility of trying to outsmart the Grim Reaper, but the impeccable timing of this ensemble, especially Malcolm Ingram's, had the entire audience, including me, break out into repeated bursts of laughter.

It's worth noting too,, that though an official opening usually means that a show is frozen. However, local directors do tend to listen to audience comments, and apparently director Kevin Coleman has opted to get rid of some intrusive stage business. As a result, the 2 hour running time has been trimmed to 1 hour and 45 minutes, including the intermission. This trimmed version I saw is flawless.

Given the somewhat annoying sight lines of the Bernstein Theater's two side thrust sections, I was glad to see that the actors were kept moving and played to the whole audience to avoid frustration by audiences not seated in the centersection.

A caveat: Though the show is scheduled to run through September 1st, Jonathan Epstein is leaving the production on August 11th. No replacement has been announced. While the company has many fine actors to call on, it seems a shame to break up this wonderful ensemble. But then, as Lobhauer's Henri observes not about Epstein's Gustave but Ingram's constantly fainting Phillipe, "He'll leave us one day, in the middle of a sentence. He'll leave on a comma!" , a bit of a Waiting for Godot in reverse
Everything is a long way to us now
The cast of Heroes
(Photo credit: Kevin Sprague)
While Curtainup has reviewed Tom Stoppard's translation of Heroes A beautiful terrace in France overlooking the distant mountains, a grove of poplars and a quaint cemetery, bird calls filter through dappled light. This is the charming, idyllic setting of Shakespeare & Co.s Heroes, a French play by Gerald Sibleyras and translated by Tom Stoppard. Of course, if one happens to be a retired elderly World War I veteran and this is the last stop before the charming cemetery, it may be more of a cage than a refuge.

This poignant comedy, set in 1959, though written in 2003, as Le Vent des Poplars (The Wind in the Poplars,) received the Olivier Award during the 2005-2006 season in London. Offering a wry view of the human condition, it receives a delicate production in the hands of Kevin G. Coleman and a trio of veteran actors: Jonathan Epstein, the cynical rogue Gustave, Malcolm Ingram an endearing though unsteady Phillipe, and Robert Lohbauer, the romantic, courtly Henri.

Though comfortable and well-cared for by the rumored-to-be harridan Sister Madeline, they long to escape the humdrum day-to-day gossip, quibbling and grousing about real or imagined slights. The endless “cheerful” birthday parties only serve as reminders of their inevitable march to the cemetery that lies directly in their view of the hills and freedom beyond.

We are the co-conspirators as the men hatch an unlikely and improbable last great adventure in the hope of relieving the ennui of marginalized lives marked by creeping decrepitude. The intimate setting of the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre draws us into the plight of the once youthful though damaged survivors. We are privy to their deepest longings and darkest fears. They may have made it out alive from the “war to end all wars,” but they know they wont be so lucky in the last great confrontation we must all make alone.

Epsteins Gustave is full of bravado and arrogance which masks a paralyzing agoraphobia and an inability to accept change. Ingrams Phillipe has a souvenir of WWI — a shard of shrapnel in his brain which causes unexpected fainting spells and hilarious outbursts. Lohbauers Henris quiet chivalry bespeaks a forgotten time period as he worships from afar the towns very young schoolteacher. Though aged and limping, he reminds us that while our bodies decay our imaginations and hopes remain alive.

All of these men may be vulnerable, but still imbued with the indomitable will to protect what small victories may still be theirs to claim. They band together to defend their terrace from invading fellow inmates and so hatch an improbable scheme to escape —either for a picnic or a hike to the far away hills or even to Indochina. All aid and abet each other in escalating this scheme in the company of the terraces mascot, a 200 pound bronze dog.

The sight gags and utter ridiculousness of their discussions help underscore how small their world has become. We laugh at their foibles and too-human need to imagine themselves more important than their situation suggests. Always formally and correctly dressed by costumer Esther Van Eek, the men represent a time of manners and customs of another age. James V. Bilnoskis melancholy, subdued lighting design illuminates Patrick Brennans once elegant haven for men whose personal memories and injuries of trench warfare and mustard gas are left to the audiences imagination.

This is a sweet and sadly funny observation of what we all must come to if we live long enough. With a nod to the existential absurdist view of human haplessness, the play is not an intellectual incursion into the deepest psychic motivation but, rather, a celebration of the human spirit.

By Gerald Sibleyras, translated by Tom Stoppard
Directed by Kevin G. Coleman
Cast: Jonathan Epstein (Gustave,) Malcolm Ingram (Phillipe,) Robert Lohbauer (Henri)
Scene Design: Patrick Brennan
Lighting Design: James W. Bilnoski
Costume Design: Esther Van Eek
Sound Design: Michael Pfeiffer
Stage Manager: Fran Rubenstein
Running Time: Two hours including intermission
Shakespeare & Co., 70 Kemble St., Lenox, MA
Tickets: $15.00-$50.00 (413) 637-3353; email:
Performances: Sunday matinee: 3:00; evenings: 8:30;
Preview: 06/12/13; Opens: 06/14/13. Closes: 9/1/13
Review by Gloria Miller based on performance 06/14/13
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