April 26, 2009
♦ A Potomac
Stages Pick for a short evening of charm, warm humor and fabulous acting
Running time 1:20 - no intermission
Some shows thrill you with spectacle, some with dramatic
fireworks and some with uproarious comedy. Then there are those very few shows
that can deliver all the satisfaction of those spectaculars of angst and
hilarity without raising their voices, relying on pure charm. This is one of
those shows and its secret is the skill of its three cast members, men who,
according to MetroStage, have trod the stages of our theater community for a
collective 105 years! Yes, there is a simple and simply marvelous script in a
translation from Gerald Sibleyras' original French Le Vent Des Peupliers by famed playwright Tom Stoppard. It is a
fine script, a well crafted piece with humorous remarks and witty rejoinders
aplenty. But it is the way Ralph Cosham, John Dow and Michael Tolaydo deliver
those lines, the way they build a sense of camaraderie among their former
comrades-in-arms characters, and the way the three actors allow the three
characters to earn places in the audience's hearts that sets this lovely piece
apart from most everything else playing in Potomac region theaters today.
Storyline: Three aging
veterans of "The Great War" while away their final days on the
terrace of their old soldier's home, trading stories and planning one final
Here's a suggestion for Carolyn Griffin, Producing Artistic
Director of MetroStage: give Michael Tolaydo an official title of "play
finder" for the company. While MetroStage has had much success with their
musicals (especially bio-musicals) and semi-cabaret musical shows, twice they
have mounted tender, heart warming intimate straight plays that Tolaydo
discovered and brought to their attention. Six years ago it was Sea Marks, a touching two character play
that Tolaydo and Catherine Flye turned into pure joy under the direction of
Nick Olcott. Now it is Heroes which Tolaydo, Dow and Cosham turn into pure
charm under the direction of John Vreeke. (Oh, and Ms. Griffin - always cast
Tolaydo in the plays he brings in!)
The original French play by a playwright with no name
identification in the US
has been translated by an English playwright with a marquee toping name. Not
having seen (or been able to read) the untranslated original, this reviewer is
in no position to say who gets credit for what. The script is simply what it is
and what it is is nice. Nice, of course, doesn't draw audiences away from
strong competition, and lets face it, there is a good deal of strong
competition for your ticket buying dollar in the Potomac Region these days. It
is the performances of Cosham, Dow and Tolaydo that turn a serviceable script
into such a joy.
A fourth "character" is present on the
single-location set of the terrace designed by Colin K. Bills. It is a stone
statue of a dog which is the topic of one running thread of conversation.
During the blackouts between scenes, black clad stagehands move the statue
about. It is precisely this lack of theatrical design gimmickry that places the
fortunes of the production right where they should be: on the oh-so-capable
shoulders of Messrs. Cosham, Dow and Tolaydo.
Written by Gérald
Sibleyras. Translated by Tom Stoppard. Directed by John Vreeke. Design: Colin
K. Bills (set and lights) Ivania Stack (costumes) Jessica Lee Winfield (stage
manager). Cast: Ralph Cosham, John Dow, Michael Tolaydo.
By Jayne Blanchard | Wednesday, April 29,
handled with grace
deep look at instinct
Small pleasures can be found in the quiet comedy of
MetroStage's production of "Heroes," directed with exquisite care by
John Vreeke and featuring a trio of bravura actors.
Originally titled "Le Vent des Peupliers"
("The Wind in the Poplars"), Gerard Sibleyras' 2002 play - translated
by Tom Stoppard in 2005 - centers on three old men, veterans of World War I,
who pass their days at a soldiers home outside of Paris. The year is 1959, but
the winds of change barely touch them as they sit together on a stone terrace
each day, fiercely guarding against interlopers as they must have on the front.
It's like a more genteel version of "Waiting for
Godot" as the trio spend each day in never-ending rounds of bickering,
grousing about the staff (especially the 5-foot-tall Sister Marguerite, who
rumor has it harbors homicidal thoughts toward the patients), fantasizing about
comely women and dreaming of escape.
Gustave (an elegantly caustic Ralph Cosham) is the morose
and agoraphobic curmudgeon who hates everything - even August, and he's not too
keen on the other months of the year, either. In contrast, the lame Henri
(Michael Tolaydo, finding the subtleties in optimism) is sociable and happy
with his lot in life and is what Gustave derisively terms "a born
enthusiast." Phillipe (John Dow, endearing as a failing survivor) is prone
to spells because of shrapnel in his head and plays the genial middleman to the
two at-odds cronies.
They also endlessly conjecture as to whether a stone
statue of a dog is moving - to the point where the pooch becomes a fourth
character in the play. It's a quintessential Stoppardian moment of absurdity
and wit to give the dog the final say.
"Heroes" could be rife with geezer jokes and
"do not go gentle into that good night" bromides. Yet Mr. Sibleyras'
play - leavened by Mr. Stoppard's clever banter - does not mock the elderly or
the smallness of their lives. Instead, the play is a softly heroic treatment of
three war heroes for whom death is a familiar presence. They decide to take on
one final adventure - granted, an impossible and faintly ridiculous adventure -
before the outside world completely forgets them.
Mr. Vreeke takes the cast through the play with the grace
of classical musicians performing an etude. The actors work beautifully and
seamlessly together, with Mr. Dow providing the proper balance between Mr.
Tolaydo's high ebullience and Mr. Cosham's consummately low notes.
You might think you know where a 90-minute play about
three old, disabled veterans on a foolish quest will end up, but
"Heroes" forgoes the obvious and instead thwarts expectations. What
could have been a staged sitcom about codgers is a charming play about the
human instinct to break free from whatever confines and isolates us, an
instinct that does not diminish with age.
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS
‘Heroes’ among us at
By: Nancy Dunham
April 28, 2009
It’s a dog’s life in Tom Stoppard’s translation of
“Heroes” currently at MetroStage — and what an interesting life it is.
This production had a 2003 premiere in Paris as “Le Vent
des Peupliers” (“The Wind in the Poplars”), was retitled “Heroes” in 2005 and
presented in London — to much acclaim — and had a 2007 American debut in Los
Angeles. It’s easy to see why this show will undoubtedly continue to win
critical and popular kudos for years to come.
The MetroStage production — under the direction of John
Vreeke, who directed the acclaimed recent production “The Last Days of Judas
Iscariot” — had a recent MetroStage audience shouting with laughter when they
weren’t literally poised on the edge of their seats, listening to the clever
wordplay, reminiscent of that in the classic “Waiting for Godot.”
That’s saying a lot, considering the production is set in
1959 Paris at
an old soldier’s home. Doesn’t seem that the setting and its three war-wounded
characters — brilliantly played by three of the area’s most beloved actors,
Ralph Cosham (Gustave), John Dow (Phillippe) and Michael Tolaydo (Henri) — are
the ingredients for a near laugh riot.
Yet the story is told with such genuine warmth, affection
and introspection that it can’t help but elicit good-natured,
laugh-with-you-not-about-you reactions as the threesome spend their idle time
sitting on a park bench discussing their lives and the best way to reconcile
their often heroic pasts during World War I with their current lives.
And while each seems eager to break out of the gentrified,
yet boringly predictable, routine of their lives, none can quite muster the
strength to do so despite a plan for them to either have a picnic, travel to Indochina or hike to the faraway poplars that wave
alluringly from a far hill.
Their failure to realize their dreams — obviously due to
Gustave’s terror at moving outside the home’s confines, Phillipe’s blackouts
and Henri’s injured leg — is especially disappointing to a silent fourth member
of the gang. That would be a 200-pound stone Dalmatian that “writes” a
heartfelt message in the men’s collaborative journal that reduces most of the
audience members to exuberant laughter.
This production is a perfect combination of dry humor,
pithy wordplay, heartbreaking dreams and genuine wisdom that lures us into the
men’s lives as we re-examine our own.
Packs Quite a Dramatic Punch
By Celia Wren
Friday, May 1, 2009
Three old geezers frittering away the hours in a
retirement facility. That might not sound like a gripping dramatic scenario,
but it's hard to tear yourself away from the MetroStage production of
"Heroes," French dramatist Gérald Sibleyras's bittersweet portrait of
querulous, loafing World War I veterans.
Displaying spot-on timing, three expert actors mine the
humor, tension and wistful profundity in this 80-minute piece, which has been
translated into pellucid English by no less a luminary than Tom Stoppard. The
narrative may begin and end in rambling talk, and the comedy often cedes to
bare-ruined-choirs pensiveness, but "Heroes" -- confidently directed
by John Vreeke -- hooks you more surely than many a play that has a taut,
flashy story line.
First presented in Paris in
2003 -- and, in Stoppard's version, subsequently mounted in London (where it nabbed the 2006 Laurence
Olivier Award for best new comedy) -- Sibleyras's play takes place on the
terrace of an old soldiers' home. MetroStage set designer Colin K. Bills
renders a poetic configuration of bench, flagstones and green-gray wall,
guarded by a statue of a wolfhound.
Here Gustave, Philippe and Henri (Ralph Cosham, John Dow
and Michael Tolaydo) while away their days gossiping, reminiscing, exasperating
one another and hatching harebrained schemes. Particularly occupying their
minds, in this late summer of 1959, are the doings of the retirement home's
administrator -- a nun of potentially Machiavellian cunning -- and a planned
hike to a distant grove of poplars. (The play's French title is "Le Vent
des Peupliers": "The Wind in the Poplars.")
In a smart touch, costumier Ivania Stack outfits the
elderly warriors in autumn-brown suits, vests and shoes that are almost, but
not quite, identical. The sartorial similarity accentuates the contrasts among
the soldiers' personalities -- distinctions that the actors tease out deftly.
With a withering speaking tone and world-weary manner, Cosham is riveting as
the dyspeptic Gustave ("Nothing revolts me more than a picnic!"),
whose know-it-all facade conceals his terror of the outside world. When Cosham
reveals the character's vulnerability in one trembling, wide-eyed moment, the
epiphany is wrenching.
Puttering about amiably, Dow lends an endearing touch of
innocence to Philippe, a mildly paranoid womanizer who faints periodically
because of shrapnel in his brain. With his plummy voice and beaming
expressions, Tolaydo's bow-tied, cane-wielding Henri radiates a poignant
exuberance. When Henri describes a young woman he worships from afar --
"like a flower . . . lissome . . . long-limbed" -- he seems to taste
All the actors exhibit masterful command of the pause, the
double-take, the tossed-off comment and the pointed glance -- techniques that
allow them to calibrate the play's shifting, latticing moods. You always sense
the approach-of-twilight uneasiness beneath the veterans' banter, and the
mythic quality shimmering beneath those earthy, unseen poplars.
Heroes, by Gérald Sibleyras, translated by Tom Stoppard.
Directed by John Vreeke; lighting design, Colin K. Bills. About 80 minutes.
Through May 24 at MetroStage, 1201
N. Royal St., Alexandria.
For tickets, call 800-494-8497; for more information, visit http://www.metrostage.org.
Heroes, Poignancy, Plenty of Humor
Saturday, May 2, 2009
By Jeanne Theismann
It’s 1959 and Philippe, Gustave and Henri are cantankerous
and cranky. They are World War I veterans who pass the time at a French
soldiers’ home dreaming of making their escape, if not to Indochina then at
least as far as the poplar trees on a distant hill in the award-winning HEROES,
now playing at MetroStage Theatre.
Making its Washington area premiere, the Gerald Sibleyras
play first debuted in Paris in 2003 as Le Vent des Peupliers (The Wind in the
Poplars), where it received four Moliere nominations. The English-language
adaptation by the gifted wordsmith Tom Stoppard went on to London and received the Laurence Olivier
Award for Best New Comedy in 2005.
It is Stoppard’s witty yet poignant translation that is
brought to life as the three veterans pass their mundane days engaging in
verbal sparring of long-forgotten military campaigns, grumblings about the
staff and melancholy reflections on their lives.
Set entirely on an isolated terrace on the grounds of the
home, the tender play is reminiscent of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.
Our trio of heroes are Henri, who is disabled by a wounded
leg, Gustave, who suffers from agoraphobia, and Philippe, who passes out due to
a piece of shrapnel lodged in his brain. Their begrudging camaraderie becomes
strained when Gustave conjures up a plan to escape the grounds of the hospital
despite their combined physical and psychological limitations.
Comprising the tenderly beguiling cast are three of Washington’s most
beloved actors, each of whom deliver a splendid and achingly funny performance.
Ralph Cosham is the newly-arrived Gustave, an eye-rolling
cynic who amuses himself at the expense of his friends. Cosham, a long-standing
company member of both Arena Stage and the Shakespeare Theatre, combines a
deceptively understated dry wit with the dignified presence of a still-proud
Michael Tolaydo plays Henri, who is more sheltered and the
realist of the group, preferring to plan a nearby picnic rather than a sortie
to Indochina as the means of escape from the
hospital terrace. Tolaydo has appeared in two MetroStage productions: SeaMarks
and Crummles’ Christmas Carol, and recently remounted and performed the one man
show St. Mark’s Gospel in multiple locations. His Henri is eternally optimistic
and touching in his admiration for a village schoolteacher he encounters on his
John Dow is Philippe, prone to collapsing mid-sentence as a
result of the lodged shrapnel and also a bit of a conspiracy theorist. He is
convinced Sister Madeleine, the five-foot-tall nun who runs the hospital, is
trying to kill him. Philippe is both funny and poignant as the fainting spells
become more frequent. Dow, most recently seen in Is He Dead? at Olney Theatre,
perfectly captures both sides of his character, delivering clever comedy with
the subtle sadness of a man who realizes he is not all that he used to be.
Four-time Helen Hayes Award nominee John Vreeke returns to
MetroStage to direct HEROES, following his impressive staging of the Canadian
plays One Good Marriage and For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again. Set and
lighting design is by Colin Bills, and Ivania Stack is the costume designer.
Jessica Winfield is Stage Manager, Kevin Laughon is Production Manager and
Brandon Guilliams is Technical Director.
The comedy in HEROES is a gentle humor, and Stoppard’s
brilliant translation and MetroStage cast make for an impressive combination
under the talented eye of Vreeke. In the course of the 90-minute play, the
hopes and dreams of men nearing the end of their lives is at once both
hilarious and achingly moving.
With three of the finest, funniest and most tender
performances to be seen, HEROES touches the hearts of anyone who has ever
witnessed the unwavering dignity of an aging veteran.
“Theatre at its most powerful should make the audience
think, laugh, feel, ponder and enjoy a story well told,” said Carolyn Griffin,
producing artistic director of MetroStage. HEROES does just that and experiencing
it in the intimate setting of the MetroStage theatre creates a powerful yet
poignant evening that lingers with hope long after the actors take their final