Amana – A play about three World War I veterans living in an old soldiers’ home didn’t sound like a candidate for the Lawrence Olivier Best New Comedy Award when it was first produced in London, but in showing us how these three veterans cope with the monotony of their existence, forty-one years after the end of the war, Tom Stoppard’s play Heroes allows us to see something of the spirit of soldiers who survived the Great War. Having survived, though not without injuries of body and spirit, the men look forward to the end of 1959 and the beginning of a new decade.
The men are Henri (David Q. Combs), Gustave (Steven Marc Weiss), and Philippe (Jason Grubbe). Combs, Weiss and Grubbe are accomplished actors well able to convey the boredom of their existence and the spirit of adventure that allows them to surmount the monotony and retain something of that spirit that sent them into the war. Henri’s leg wound is visible, Philippe suffers the ill effects of shrapnel lodged in his head, and Gustave’s withdrawal into his room is apparently unbroken except for the time he spends with Henri and Philippe on the rear terrace of their home.
In spite of their limitations, this is not a gloomy play. Their wit, their spirited exchanges, and their occasional reminiscences prove their underlying character is not defined by age and/or injury. They are able to enjoy each other’s company and to exercise their independence in spite of their limitations and the rules imposed on them by the formidable Sister Madeleine who seems to be the administrator of the home.
These three actors are wonderful in their actions, and even more wonderful in their reactions. No comment, however banal, goes unregistered in their facial expressions, their postures, and their silent interchanges. The small Studio Theatre is perfect for the performances they give, allowing for subtleties impossible in a large auditorium.
Director Rachael Lindhart keeps the momentum alive, partly by trusting her actors and partly by bringing out the arc of the play. For this play to be successful there must be trust between the actors and trust in the vision of their director. It works. The performances are gems, displayed in a tiny but perfect setting.
We even get to see the formidable Sister Madeleine as a stagehand, removing and arranging any changes in the tiny setting—moving a chair or a significant prop, a stone statue of a dog. Her adjustments serve to emphasize her control of the home and her attempted control of its residents.
This is a play to be seen and enjoyed and pondered long after the conclusion. It is a pleasure to recommend it. Heroes runs through July 19. Ticket information available here.