Group: Act Inc.
Venue: Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, Big Bend at Wydown
Dates: July 10, 11, 12
Tickets: $18-$20; contact 314-725-9108 or www.actinc.biz
Story: More than 40 years ago, Henri, Gustave and Philippe served their country honorably, helping France and its allies defeat Germany in World War I. That victory came with a price, however. Henri has a tin leg, Philippe carries shrapnel in his head that causes him to black out at increasingly more frequent intervals, and Gustave is terrified to leave the safety of their veterans’ home.
The three former soldiers spend their days on the home’s terrace, gazing wistfully at a grove of poplars that line a hill just beyond their locale. Philippe has assigned Gustave the task of writing letters to Philippe’s sister on his behalf, as Philippe has grown bored with the communication. Henri yearns for some poetry and romance in his life, while Gustave is content with criticizing everyone and everything he sees.
Their moment of truth comes when they decide to journey beyond their gates to visit that mystical grove, accompanied by a 200-pound statue of a beloved dog that graces the terrace. Can they overcome their personal demons to achieve this singular quest?
Highlights: Le Vent des Peupliers (The Wind in the Poplars), a one-act play written in 2003 by French playwright Gerald Sibleyras, was translated by Tom Stoppard into this English version, which won England’s Olivier Award in 2006 for Best New Comedy. Stoppard’s adaptation is a gentle little piece, a static look at the declining years for a trio of stalwart soldiers who heroically face each day with grace and dignity. It lacks Stoppard’s trademark zaniness and exaggeration, instead relying on the polish of its performers to achieve any resonance.
Fortunately, director Rob Grumich has employed three splendid actors to assay these roles and so, while the play itself is frequently tedious and overly delicate, the production is a pleasant success. Its pacing, though, lags too often due in part to numerous short scenes that seem to limp drearily along.
Kevin Beyer, who moves easily between charming protagonists and sinister villains with the utmost style, here warmly captures the grace and elegance of Henri, whose limping gait disguises a soaring heart and soul. David Gibbs provides much of the evening’s humor with Philippe’s sporadic blackouts as well as his eccentricities that include observations of the stone dog’s movements. Both Gibbs and Beyer defer to Richard Lewis for the show’s largest moments. As Gustave, Lewis’ contempt and braggadocio conceal his character’s darkest fears that come to light in the work’s most poignant scene.
Other Info: Scenic designer Tim Poertner and properties designer Emily Robinson provide the handsome set and props, which include a triptych of paintings that allude to the magical trees on the horizon as well as the fourth member of the “quartet,” namely that sturdy canine structure. Adam Grun’s sound design, Michael Sullivan’s lighting and Jane Sullivan’s costumes contribute to the look and feel of a French veterans’ home, circa 1959.
Because of its numerous short scenes and lack of action, Heroes likely would play better in two acts, which would still bring it in short of two hours. The primary virtue of Act Inc.’s presentation is the chance to watch three accomplished artists ply their craft in the cozy confines of Fontbonne University’s Fine Arts Theatre.
Rating: A 3.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.