Theater Review: Tampa Rep.'s Heroes 

Even with a Tom Stoppard translation, this French play remains inert.

OLD FRIENDS: C. David Frankel, Steve Mountan and Jim Wicker in Heroes.
  • Tampa Rep
  • OLD FRIENDS: C. David Frankel, Steve Mountan and Jim Wicker in Heroes.
Sometimes I just don't understand how theaters choose their seasons. Tampa Repertory Theatre, one of the newest companies in town, opened this season with the conventional, too often musty I Do! I Do!. Now it’s following that comedy with an entirely unremarkable French play by Gérald Sibleyras whose only selling point is that it’s been translated by Tom Stoppard.

Heroes isn’t just bland: it’s also a play in which next to nothing happens, in which the dialogue is only slightly better than average, and in which the only dramatic question — will its protagonists escape from their rest home — has already been answered by other, better plays, from Godot to American Buffalo.

Is Heroes at least an opportunity for some bravura acting? Not really. It doesn’t have one single dazzling monologue as in, say, Yasmina Reza’s Art (also middle-brow, but a lot more fun) or even a single, tense confrontation between characters as in crowd-pleasers like The Odd Couple or The Gin Game. This is theater without heights or depths; you’ll find a stroll along Seventh Avenue much more dramatically satisfying.

So here’s the premise. Three World War I veterans, Henri, Gustave, and Philippe, have nothing to do all day but stand around on a terrace (beautifully designed by Amanda Bearss) and exchange lukewarm observations. The three aren’t sharply distinguished from one another, but Henri is the most sensible (and the one with the limp), Philippe is always a few minutes from passing out, and Gustave is — I don’t know; I honestly can't say what makes him individual.

In the play’s first few scenes, we learn that the veterans’ home is run by nuns, that Philippe thinks Sister Madeleine turns homicidal when she discovers two men with the same birthday, and that there’s a lovely hill in the distance adorned with beautiful poplar trees. Though our three heroes aren’t actually mistreated by the Sisters, they resolve to run away to that pleasant hill in the distance. They plan and connive but there’s little likelihood that they’ll ever go even a few steps in the right direction. They conspire a little more. Then the play ends.

As directed by Jo Averill-Snell, the three actors in Heroes fit snugly into their parts without showing any pesky self-contradiction or other complexity. Perhaps the most interesting performer is Steve Mountan, who plays Philippe as a kind of fatalist intellectual. Jim Wicker as Henri is Henri as Jim Wicker: friendly, sincere, comfortable, wry. And C. David Frankel as Gustave is more than competent without ever convincing us that this character houses a mystery which it will be his task to uncover.

There are a few fine touches. Frank Chavez’s costumes are nicely rendered, and Christopher Rutherford’s lighting could hardly be better. But for the most part, Heroes is too little too late: its echoes, especially of Godot, speak louder than its voice.

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