Three men (and a dog) bring ‘Heroes’ to life at Chenango River Theatre

heroes.Reviewed by Nancy Oliveri

Dateline: Any provincial town in France, 1959.

Gustave, Henri and Philippe have nowhere else to be these days except on the terrace of a home for WWI veterans. They have each other, their memories and, not to be minimized, the company of a concrete dog, but that may not be enough to save their sanity.

Heroes was translated from French playwright Gerald Sibleyras’ 2003 Le Vent Des Peupliers (The Wind in the Poplars). In this adaptation by Tom Stoppard, three old soldiers spend long, otherwise boring, days reminiscing about their lives. They talk about the war, gossip about the nun who runs their retirement home and fret that they’ll lose their place in the (never seen) sister’s good graces. They yearn to recapture their halcyon days and the glory of their war experiences, while jockeying for a place in their present reality and, in the process, facing their mortality.

With flashes of great humor (this is a comedy, though not a “rollicking” one) and moments of absolute pathos, Heroes delivers an authentic, not-overly-sentimental couple of hours of top-notch theater.

Directed by Drew Kahl and featuring three seasoned, talented actors — Jim Wicker, Bernard Sheredy and Bill Gorman — the two-act play speaks loudest to the men in the audience who have seen their share of life but also will appeal to the women who know and love them.

L-R, Bernard Sheredy, Jim Wicker, Bill Gorman after opening night performance.

L-R, Bernard Sheredy, Jim Wicker and Bill Gorman after the opening night performance.

Gustave, the newcomer to the trio, uses bluster and crankiness to hide a deeper sensibility about his inner life and the sorrows he carries. His orneriness is nicely done by Wicker, the only non-Equity actor in the cast.

Wicker has been in many shows at CRT, including The Foreigner and The Diary of Anne Frank. His performance here is subtly complex, complemented by Sheredy’s hopefully optimistic Henri and Gorman’s anxious Philippe.

Henri is an amputee whose ambulation challenges (he uses a cane) don’t keep him from venturing out into the village for his “daily constitutional.” His little walk allows him to fantasize about pursuing a young woman he has seen there, despite their age differences. Henri is the glue that holds this small band of brothers together, made believable through Sheredy’s natural delivery and timing.

Sheredy is a consummate professional and is as at home on the stage as he is behind the scenes. (He directed Know Theatre’s stunning success, Mass Appeal, this past winter.) In Heroes, he performs with Gorman for the first time since The Passion of Dracula in 1993 at the Cider Mill Playhouse. Sheredy, who has appeared in numerous television shows and movies, last performed at CRT in 2010.

The tireless Bill Gorman, seen and enjoyed in so many productions in the Greater Binghamton area, is by turns funny and sweetly pathetic as Philippe, who suffers from spells of what looks like narcolepsy.

A silent but important character in this show is Artistic and Managing Director Bill Lelbach’s set, which I heard a man behind me proclaim to be “beautiful.” It is. The terra cotta terrace and simple furnishings evoke the romance the three men long for but hems them in with a low wall downstage. They gaze like children at a carnival fence through the fourth wall, past what we know is a cemetery to a distant hill where poplars sway. The terrace provides just enough of a suggestion of liberation, circumscribed by the permanence of their lot here close to the end of their lives.

Julie Duro’s lighting design and Barbara Kahl’s costumes do not intrude into the performance but complement the other elements nicely. Paige Harris serves as stage manager.

A very nice touch is the ambient music, which included (I believe) French chanteuse Edith Piaf. I created a Pandora radio station under her name to inspire me while writing this review but mainly to catch her singing “Non je ne regrette rien…” (I regret nothing.)

I actually didn’t need extra inspiration, though. The show is really wonderful and worth the drive. Give yourself enough time if you’re coming from Binghamton. CRT is located at 991 State Route 12, Greene, right next door to its benefactor, Raymond Corporation, which has generously sponsored it through its foundation.

IF YOU GO: Friday’s opening night (Aug. 22) was sold out, and the CRT expects tickets for the remaining shows to go quickly. Performances continue at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Sept. 14. Tickets are $20 to $23. Call the box office at 656-8499 (656-TIXX), or go online to www.chenangorivertheatre.org. This Sunday (Aug. 24) is a “name-your-price” performance; Aug. 29 will feature a Q&A after the show with the cast.

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