Heroes at MetroStageHEROES
Written by Gerald Sibleyras
Translated by Tom Stoppard
Directed by John Vreeke

WINNER of 2010 HELEN HAYES AWARD: Outstanding Ensemble, Resident Play

The Washington area premiere of Gerald Sibleyras' HEROES, translated by Tom Stoppard, will be in performance April 23-May 24 at MetroStage. Originally titled Le Vent des Peupliers (The Wind in the Poplars), it premiered in Paris in 2003 receiving four Moliere nominations. The story takes place outside Paris in an old soldier's home in 1959.

Three WWI soldiers are passing the time on an isolated terrace.  Reminiscent of Waiting for Godot they go nowhere, yet talk and plan. In the course of 90 minutes you come to know each character and care deeply about them. The combination of Stoppard's rapier wit and dazzling use of language and the poignancy of these old vets nearing the end of their lives provides a mix of comic curmudgeonry, camaraderie and nostalgia.

Heroes at the MetroStage

HEROES - Directed by John Vreeke
"Heroes" -- confidently directed by John Vreeke -- hooks you more surely than many a play that has a taut, flashy story line."   -
The Washington Post

"Vreeke takes the cast through the play with the grace of classical musicians performing an etude."

The Washington Times

"Vreeke...had a recent MetroStage audience shouting with laughter when they weren’t literally poised on the edge of their seats..."   - Washington Examiner

"John Vreeke directs the production and imbues it with his eerie sense of timing" - DC Theatre Scene

"Four-time Helen Hayes Award nominee John Vreeke returns to MetroStage to direct Heroes"

- Alexandria Times

The Washington Post

Compact 'Heroes' Packs Quite a Dramatic Punch
By Celia Wren
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, May 1, 2009

Heroes castThree 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.

HeroesFirst 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.

HeroesHere 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!"), whoseHeroes 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.

HeroesPuttering 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 the words.

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.

The Washington Post

For Heroes With Flair,
Take Three Actors and Season Richly

By Jane Horwitz
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, May 6, 2009

HeroesThe trio of seasoned Washington actors starring in "Heroes" at Alexandria's MetroStage might be having nearly as much fun as their audiences. There's no denying it's been work, fine-tuning the rhythms and cadences of Tom Stoppard's dialogue -- but Ralph Cosham, John Dow and Michael Tolaydo have relished it.

The British playwright translated and adapted French writer Gerald Sibleyras' play about three World War I vets living in an old soldiers' home in France, circa 1959. The comedy, with whiffs of the existential void a la "Waiting for Godot," runs through May 24.

"Old actors never die, they just get smaller parts," quips Cosham, 73, once a member of Arena Stage's long-ago resident company. "This is a chance to use the experience that we've built up over the years," he says.

HeroesCosham plays Gustave, a cranky, much-decorated vet who has apparent shell shock and a fear of the outside world. "Don't tell the union about this, but we would come to rehearsal early . . . [and] we'd stay late," Cosham says. "We all just fell in love with this play. We just wanted it to be as good as it could possibly be. We really worked hard at it and I think it paid off. We're having the best time."

It was Tolaydo, recently at Theater J in "The Accident" and "Benedictus," who discovered the "Heroes" script on a trip to London. "I thought: Wow, this was a lovely little play," he recalls. He showed the script to MetroStage's Carolyn Griffin, who says she "absolutely loved it."

John Vreeke was hired to direct, but he wasn't as enamored of the script at first. It seemed "a little insignificant" to him. As he dug into it, though, he started realizing what they had in hand: "Stoppard's language, which is flawless and so musical and so beautiful."

After noting the "Godot" influences, Vreeke says he began seeing it "less in terms of absolute reality" and instead opted for a more poetic approach. Cosham and Tolaydo were cast first. "After John Dow came on board and we started having readings for the piece, it just sang," Vreeke says. "We spent a lot of time getting the language absolutely right."

And there were other challenges about having three characters onstage together all the time. "It's very funny and very poignant and touching, but you need to make sure the relationships are very clear," says Tolaydo, 62. He plays Henri, a naive, "glass half-full" sort of fellow with a bum leg. "Sometimes you don't say anything for a long time, but you're part of the conversation and you interject with something. . . . We wanted to create this idea that we knew each other really well," he says.

HeroesThere was never much debate about trying to make the three men seem truly French, the actors and director agree. That's because "it was written with Stoppard's kind of flair," says Dow, 66, who plays Phillippe, a gentle fellow with shrapnel in his skull who tends to drop out of consciousness at odd intervals.

"There were so many British phrases in there, we thought the best thing to do was to go that way with it . . . three British guys in a French army hospital," says Dow, chuckling.

"We treated it like a British piece," says Vreeke. Cosham and Tolaydo have roots in England and South Africa, respectively, so they already sound British. Dow honed his vowels a bit to blend.

"What's so great about it is you have three men, each one distinctive," Tolaydo says of Henri, Gustave and Phillippe. "The play has received wonderful notices and wonderful response -- and not one character has been singled out as being better than the other."

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company can now reveal its final show for next season. "Grueome Playground Injuries," by Rajiv Joseph, will run May 17-June 13, 2010. Another theater company, which Woolly still doesn't have permission to name, will premiere the play, about two children who meet in the school nurse's office and grow into self-destructive adults. John Vreeke will direct Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey and Tim Getman.

Washington Times
Review by Jayne Blanchard | Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Charming 'Heroes' handled with grace
Play takes 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.

RATING: ***1/2

Washington Examiner
Review by Nancy Dunham - April 28, 2009

‘Heroes’ among us at MetroStage
"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.

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.

Heroes at the MetroStageAnd 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 en’s lives as we re-examine our own.

DC Theatre Scene
Review by Tim Treanor  - April 27, 2009

"John Vreeke directs the production
and imbues it with his eerie sense of timing"

Played correctly - as it surely is in MetroStage’s sweet and charming production - Gérald Sibleyras’ Heroes is something Noël Coward might have written, had Coward been free to be earthy - which is to say, had Coward been writing in 2003, when Sibleyras wrote Heroes. It is witty; its characters are agreeably tart; it is a little bit sentimental; and it has the decency to avoid a clichéd dramatic climax. So what more do you want? Tom Stoppard?

Well, it has some of that, too. Stoppard translated Heroes from the original French, but while the dialogue contains that unmistakable Stoppardian punch, the story is clearly Sibleyras’, free from the wordplay and tightly woven philosophical underpinnings that characterize Stoppard’s work.  All that’s left is the fun, and that’s what the evening is: fun.

It helps that the three actors who stage this production - Michael Tolaydo, John Dow and Ralph Cosham - do so with nearly perfect pitch. It helps that John Vreeke directs the production and imbues it with his eerie sense of timing. It helps that Sibleyras wrote a play with limited ambitions, and achieved them perfectly.

It is 1959, and we are on the grounds of a French sanctuary - they use the term “sanitarium”, but not in the sense that it’s meant in American English - for Veterans of the First World War.  On a secluded patio bench sit three well-dressed men and a dog. Gustav (Cosham), haughty and acid-tongued, is invariably stage right; Phillippe (Dow), an amiable fellow afflicted by periodic bouts of unconsciousness brought about by cranial shrapnel, sits stage left and Henri (Tolaydo), long lame, optimistic, and full of enthusiasms, sits in the middle. The dog sits wherever they put him. He is made of stone, and resembles Cerberus, had Cerberus had only one head and been on the South Beach diet for five hundred years.

They are all full of eccentricities. Phillippe cannot stand to read letters from his boring sister, who has married a moron, and so delegates the task to Gustav. Gustav answers the letters, too, and not gently. Henri periodically limps to town and reports back; he has discovered a local girl’s school, and has ecstatically exchanged hellos with the youthful headmistress. “Bring her here! Introduce her to us!” his comrades urge him, while advising him on ways to make romantic progress with the lady, who appears to be about forty years his junior. Henri, for whom saying hello seems the epitome of sexual aggression, is not likely to succeed in this endeavor.

Heroes at the MetroStageTheir dilemma is that their souls are dead, and they have gone to this place in order to wait for their minds and bodies to catch up. In this, Sibleyras treads on ground which has been trod before, in Loring Mandel’s Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night, and in Coward’s Waiting in the Wings, but what he lacks in originality he makes up in simplicity and grace.

 Our heroes resolve to undertake an expedition in order to reestablish their vitality. They each formulate plans according to their degree of boldness. Henri proposes a picnic. Gustav suggests Indo-China. They compromise by deciding to travel to a grove of poplars on the far horizon. The poplars shake in the wind, which is wonderful to them, as they feel nothing but the still air around them. They immediately fall into a ruinous argument about the details of the trip: what route to take, and what provisions, and should they build a raft. It soon becomes apparent that they are going nowhere, not even off the back porch, and everything becomes peaceful, even as they continue to squabble. Their lives have narrowed down to three good friends, telling each other lies. It is sufficient.

Alexandria Times
Review by Jeanne Theismann  - Saturday, May 2, 2009

For Heroes, Poignancy, Plenty of Humor

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.

HeroesMaking 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.

HeroesRalph 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 soldier.

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 daily walk.

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.

HeroesThe 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 bows.

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