'Heroes' is light entertainment in Sarasota

The French comedy is enjoyable but promises more

mclear@bradenton.comJuly 23, 2013 

There's something frustrating about "Heroes," the current production from Banyan Theater Company.

All the elements seem to point to a special evening. There's a translation by Tom Stoppard, a titan of contemporary theater, whose imprimatur would indicate that the material ought to exceptional.

There are three wonderful performances, by Peter Thomasson, Alan Kitty and, especially, Joseph Parra, who play aging World War I veterans cooped up in a French retirement home in 1959.

There's a stunningly beautiful set by Chris McVicker.

But the evening is less then the sum of its parts. "Heroes," which Stoppard translated from a French play by Gerald Sibleyras, is enjoyable but nothing more.

We meet the play's only three characters -- Henri, Gustave and Philippe (Parra, Thomasson and Kitty, respectively) -- as they sit on the terrace of their retirement home, as they seem to do all day, every day. They talk vacuously of their war years, of their mundane contemporary existence, and eventually of a plan to escape and try to reach some nearby poplars. Henri, who has been in the home for much longer than the other two, seems content to stay. Philippe, a relative newcomer, is miserable and wants to break out, but he paralyzed with fear of encountering strangers. Gustave has a piece of shrapnel in his brain that causes him to pass out every few minutes.

There's no plot -- only talk of a potential plot -- and the dialogue is amusing but seldom hilarious. And the recurring gag about Gustave passing out and waking up telling a captain that he'll attack from the rear grows annoying very quickly.

It's not at all clear what the playwright and the translator want this play to be, or what they want us to think about these characters. "Heroes" seems at times to want to be an absurdist, existential play about the human condition: Its characters are obsessed with escaping, and plan a complex military-style operation to that end, yet it seems that they could simply walk away anytime they chose. It's an intriguing idea but it's downplayed to the point where it's barely noticeable.

The title seems to be sardonic, as Sibleyras essentially characterizes at least two of three men as buffoons, but an odd (and mildly thought-provoking) ending seems to indicate it's sincere.

There are some wonderful scenes and some real laughs in the second act, and this production might have been improved if the play were performed as intended, without intermission. As its stands, though, it just takes too long to get to those payoffs.

The problem's more in the promise than in the result. "Heroes" is a perfectly pleasant way to spend 90 minutes, especially for audiences who appreciate fine acting and stagecraft. But the play seems to want to be monumental, and the title implies it will be at least substantial. It turns out to be slight.

Details: Through Aug. 4 at the Cook Theatre at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Show times: 8 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $28.50. Information: 941-351-2808, www.banyantheatercompany.com.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reach at 941-748-0411, ext. 7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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