by Gerald Sibleyras
by Tom Stoppard
Directed by John Vreeke
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.
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.
-- confidently directed by John Vreeke -- hooks you more surely than
many a play that has a taut, flashy story line." - The
"Vreeke takes the cast
through the play
with the grace of classical musicians performing an etude."
a recent MetroStage audience shouting with laughter when they weren’t
literally poised on the edge of their seats..." - Washington
Vreeke directs the production and imbues it with his eerie sense of
timing" - DC
"Four-time Helen Hayes Award nominee John Vreeke returns to MetroStage
to direct Heroes"
'Heroes' Packs Quite a Dramatic Punch
By Celia Wren
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, May 1, 2009
Three 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
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
First 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.
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!"), whose 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.
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.
For Heroes With Flair,
Take Three Actors and Season Richly
By Jane Horwitz
Special to The Washington
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
The 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
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
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
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
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
There 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
"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.
Review by Jayne Blanchard | Wednesday,
April 29, 2009
'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.
"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
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.
Review by Nancy
Dunham - April 28, 2009
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
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
And 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
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
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
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
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
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.
Their 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
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.
Review by Jeanne Theismann -
Saturday, May 2, 2009
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.
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
Comprising the tenderly beguiling cast are three of Washington’s
beloved actors, each of whom deliver a splendid and achingly funny
Ralph 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.
The comedy in
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.