Heroes: A Master Class In Acting
Portland Stage Company, Anita Stewart, Executive Artistic Director
By Michael J. Tobin
It's 1959 and Phillippe (Philip Goodwin), Gustave (Edmond Genest) and Henri (Munson Hicks), three veterans from WWI, keep each other company on the back terrace of an old soldier's home in central France, which is not just a place where the sick are cared for, but a residence of refuge for their camaraderie. It's not so important as to where these three men have been in ther lives, but rather where they are at this moment and where they dream and dare to go.
With Heroes, a Tom Stoppard translation of Gerald Sibleyras's play, Portland Stage Company has produced another "must see" show. Heroes is very funny, very charming and very well done for anyone who wants to experience great theater. Although set in 1959, the relevancy of this post-war play speaks just as clearly today. Although not a play about war, Heroes humorously explores the emotional and physical aftermath of surviving wars' brutality when veterans are confronted with their present- and their dreams of the future.
Watching Broadway veterans Goodwin, Genest and Hicks on stage, is a master class in acting. Their characters, relationships and impeccable timing are flawless and Broadway caliber. From the moment the lights come up on their silent struggles to the beautiful visual of their wishful escape at the end, the audience is captivated in the intimate worldliness of this play.
Genest is heartfelt as the pessimist dreamer who cloaks his fears in cynicism. Hicks is solid as the optimist who still gets much joy in life's little pleasures, especially the sight of a pretty girl. Goodwin is hysterical as the good-natured and malleable veteran who suffers from seizures caused by shrapnel lodged in his skull, causing blackouts from which he comes back shouting, "Get them from the rear, Captain!" The individual and collective timing, both emotionally and physically, reminds me of what true, old-fashioned comedy is. And what a wonderful gift it is, especially in a time when violence and vulgarity tends to define what's funny these days.
Congratulations to director Paul Mullins for creating such a strong foundation for these stage professionals to build upon. The blocking is clean, fun and precise without appearing unnatural. Mullins has given each character a clear acting arc that shines in every little moment. Mullins paints some beautiful stage pictures with his actors and has a wonderful way of capping each scene. I applaud Mullins for not being afraid to stop and breathe within a scene and let the audience enjoy the unspoken.
Set designer, Anita Stewart, continues to create magic on stage. The stunning visual effect of her old soldier's home set creates the perfect playground for Mullins' concept and the three actors' performances. As always, Stewart never settles for the big picture but follows though with the tiniest of details. The textures and colors used emote a solid yet cracked feeling of the past and present, complete with an aged terrace floor slowly being choked by weeds. Simple furniture and scattered props were picture perfect.
Sound designer, Seth Asa Sengel, gave subtle but poignant ambiance with the sounds of nature, a distant train, a passing flock of geese, and the bells of time. Lighting designer, Gregg Carville, provided the perfect blend of light and shadows with just the right gel color to help transport us back to their past. Hugh Hanson, costume designer, outfitted each actor appropriately in texture and color. Stage manager, Shane Van Vliet, gave full off stage support to the production, providing a tightly run show.
There is no question that sculptor Thomas Dowling deserves a standing ovation for his creation of the fourth character in the play, the dog. This amazing piece of art will hopefully become the resident mascot of Portland Stage Company. Like the actors in the show, it speaks volumes without saying a word. In her Artistic Director notes, Stewart puts it best writing, "for every character in this play, still waters run deep, and that even as ones' life gets smaller and smaller, it still is possible to fly."