Gananoque, on the St. Lawrence River not far from Kingston, is a pretty town that bursts with lush green all summer and turns decidedly autumnal – its trees looking weary, the afternoon light less penetrating than even a month earlier – at this time of year.
So it’s only appropriate that Gananoque’s Thousand Islands Playhouse is this month presenting Heroes, Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of Gerald Sibleyras’ Le Vent de Peupliers.
The play is about three aging World War One soldiers living in a veteran’s home circa 1959. The friends, who have claimed possession of a small terrace while the other residents congregate at a more expansive spot, spend their days doing what you’d imagine old men doing: reading, squabbling, occasionally reminiscing about their womanizing days. They do it all with the sporadic urgency about small things that seems to grip elderly men more often than it does women.
It’s an uneventful enough existence even if the three are cowed by a short, tough nun who, according to them, runs the home like her personal fiefdom. Then they learn that a revamping of the grounds means that the other residents could end up invading what the trio considers to be their personal terrace. That and the sheer tedium of institutional life inspire the three to dream of breaking free and, in a military-like campaign, seek out one final adventure, taking with them a 200-pound statue of a dog.
While much of this is very funny, the inevitability of decline and death hovers in the background. Soldiers who once faced a common enemy, they now confront another whose victory, this time, is assured.
Philippe especially is conscious of mortality. Played by Mo Bock with a sometimes ill-advised mix of robust energy and crippling anxieties, Philippe suffers from a shrapnel wound that makes him pass out with no warning. His malady, he’s certain, is growing worse.
Gustave, played by Greg Wanless, is a relatively new resident with a supposedly aristocratic lineage, a fondness for ascots and elegant socks, and a sour view of life. He’s also an agoraphobic for whom life itself is closing in. Wanless, on Sunday, had trouble with his lines.
John Dolan, a fine actor, is Henri. “A born enthusiast,” Gustave calls Henri disparagingly, and the two spar frequently. Henri’s a sociable and optimistic man, but his realization late in the play that his life is now tightly circumscribed by advancing age is heart-rending.
Under director Sarah Garton Stanley, most of this works very well. It does take a few minutes before the close if frequently fractious relationship between the three men clicks into place, but once it does, there’s no doubting that comradeship is as important to them as it was when they were in the trenches.
The trio’s comic timing is also excellent. What’s sometimes mute is the sense of yearning for whatever that indefinable thing is – independence, perhaps, or a final victory – that impels their desire to escape.
Successful escapees or not, we should all be so heroic when we’re this age.
Heroes continues at Thousand Islands Playhouse until Oct. 1. Tickets: Box office, 1-866-382-7020, 613-382-7020.
by Gerald Sibleyras
Thousand Islands Playhouse
directed by Sarah Garton Stanley
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