‘Heroes’ finds its strength in its cast at North Coast Repertory Theatre
By Diana Saenger
“Heroes,” a heartwarming look back (and forward) on the lives of three World War 1 heroes living out their days in a veterans’ home, won the Laurence Olivier Best New Comedy Award in 2006. Translated by Tom Stoppard from French playwright Gérald Sibleyras’ script, the North Coast Repertory Theatre version, stars Ray Reinhardt as Henri, Ken Ruta as Gustave, and Jonathan McMurtry as Philippe. The production is entertaining but not sensational. However, with three sterling actors playing these roles under expert direction by David Ellenstein, there is a strength and professionalism to the show that should not be missed.
The drama opens on the trio sitting on a lovely, serene patio. Henri, Gustave and Philippe speak not a word as each enjoys his own recollections. But when Henri breaks the silence, Gustave goes through a hilarious tirade of why he hates all the months of the year, and then moves on to the seasons and birthdays.
The conversation turns to their residence and how annoying they find Sister Madeline (not seen). She’s about to host a birthday party for one of the residents. Philippe announces that not only does he hates these, but he worries that anyone who has the same birthday as another resident, will find one of them dead.
Grasping for their last hoorahs and planning to escape, the men find new hope in their “campaign.”
The play’s plot is thin. It’s the characters and their idiosyncrasies that keep the banter funny and moving.
Gustave is a dapper but grumpy war hero who talks to a stone statue of a dog on the patio, reads, and answers Philippe’s letters from his sister because Philippe is tired of them. He and Philippe enjoy taunting Henri about his infatuation with girls, as he’s the only one brave enough to still walk the village. Actor Ruta, is an original member of San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre with 60 productions as actor/director. He’s also performed with Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theater and Cincinnati’s Playhouse in the Park. Currently, he’s an associate artist at San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre. Every word and action of his hero is wonderful.
Philippe is prone to sudden fits where he slumps forward, unconscious for a spell, before he wakes up spouting commands to his army captain. The acclaimed actor McMurtry, as Philippe, is a graduate of England’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, also an associate artist at The Old Globe, and has 50 years and 200 productions of credits there, having performed in all of Shakespeare’s 37 plays. In 2008, he received The Globe’s Craig Noel Lifetime Achievement Award. Every ounce of his performance is believable, amusing, and an additional perk for the audience.
Henri is the hero who puts reality into Gustave’s plan for the ailing men to hike their way out of the home and through the poplar trees they love. Walking with a cane, he’s still willing to give it a try; even devising a way the trio can cross a river without drowning. Reinhardt, a Broadway veteran and also a founding company member of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, plays Henri as the perfect balance between his two friends, eager to try anything and unwilling to roll over and die.
If you go
When: Now – November 20, 2011
Where: North Coast Repertory Theatre
987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach
Tickets: $32 – $49
Box Office: (858) 481-1055
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