THEATER REVIEW: We Could Be Heroes


BY BRANDON LAFVING THEATER CRITIC The basic facts about Lantern Theater’s new play, Heroes, make it seem like a play you do not want to see. For one thing, the stage never changes. Wait, that is a half-lie. On a couple of occasions, the characters do move the stone statue of a dog. And it is thrilling. Playwright Tom Stoppard adapted the play from Gérald Sibleyras, Le Vent des Peupliers (Wind in the Poplars), so you also might expect erudite philosophical discourse on time and space (as in his famous play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead). Or, looking at the language of origin, you might think all the characters will be absurdly hot with frizzy hair and plumbing the depths of ennui. Oh, how wrong these prejudices are.

Sociable Henri (played by Lantern veteran and Barrymore Award-winner Peter Delaurier) is the pleasant, optimistic old man everyone wants to know. Henri dresses and carries himself well, like a tall version of Jack Lemmon’s character in Grumpy Old Men – concerned more with pleasing the people around him than himself. Then there’s Gustave, who provides a darker, more intellectual counterbalance to Henri’s lightness of being. Played with remarkable subtlety by Temple University Professor Dan Kern, Gustave shares his writerly wit with the bunch. He has grandiose aspirations of leadership that are beyond the limitations of what may be a minor form of PTSD. Then we have Philippe (played by Mal Whyte from television series The Tudors and The Borgias), who suffers mild hallucinations and routinely succumbs to fainting spells and conspiracy theories.

Dialogue meanders from topic to topic like the ugly duckling in search of a home. One moment, Philippe is informing us of the head nurse’s plot to kill off members of the community who share the same birthday. The next, we are discussing how the front of the nursing home will be under construction soon, which will likely send other nursing-home inhabitants to crowd the back terrace where the three enjoy their afternoon talks. The solution to the threat is an imaginative system for defense – involving three lines of barbed wire, field guns and other deadly implements.

Though the play makes light of its characters’ quirks, it does have a metaphysical backbone. Action is driven by a copse of poplars on the horizon, for which the original French play took its title. The three are so transfixed by the beauty of the elegantly swaying trees, they hatch a plot to escape their prison and picnic under the beautiful branches. All the while, death and geriatric care are the backseat drivers of the action. The French healthcare system, widely acclaimed as one of the best in the world, is having budget problems.  At points, we wonder why these men are unable to contribute to society – why, if they want to escape, are they not working? And then Philippe will start staring at the stone statue of the dog and asking the others if they saw him move. Heroes may not explicitly deal with metaphysics or show off Stoppard’s wit in any of the ways we have come to love him for, but perhaps it presents something even better. With all its criss-crossing of the borders between the imagination and reality, or sanity and the insane, the play engrosses us in a world very much like our own – one that has a tenuous grasp on life and a stronger connection to the imagination. It is like warm bowl of miso soup on a cold day – subtle, rich, and infinitely consumable.




EDITOR’S NOTE: Always looking for a good excuse to post this. Or even a bad one.