- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Small pleasures can be found in the quiet comedy of MetroStage’s production of “Heroes,” directed with exquisite care by John Vreeke and featuring a trio of bravura actors.

Originally titled “Le Vent des Peupliers” (“The Wind in the Poplars”), Gerard Sibleyras’ 2002 play - translated by Tom Stoppard in 2005 - centers on three old men, veterans of World War I, who pass their days at a soldiers home outside of Paris. The year is 1959, but the winds of change barely touch them as they sit together on a stone terrace each day, fiercely guarding against interlopers as they must have on the front.

It’s like a more genteel version of “Waiting for Godot” as the trio spend each day in never-ending rounds of bickering, grousing about the staff (especially the 5-foot-tall Sister Marguerite, who rumor has it harbors homicidal thoughts toward the patients), fantasizing about comely women and dreaming of escape.

Gustave (an elegantly caustic Ralph Cosham) is the morose and agoraphobic curmudgeon who hates everything - even August, and he’s not too keen on the other months of the year, either. In contrast, the lame Henri (Michael Tolaydo, finding the subtleties in optimism) is sociable and happy with his lot in life and is what Gustave derisively terms “a born enthusiast.” Phillipe (John Dow, endearing as a failing survivor) is prone to spells because of shrapnel in his head and plays the genial middleman to the two at-odds cronies.

They also endlessly conjecture as to whether a stone statue of a dog is moving - to the point where the pooch becomes a fourth character in the play. It’s a quintessential Stoppardian moment of absurdity and wit to give the dog the final say.

“Heroes” could be rife with geezer jokes and “do not go gentle into that good night” bromides. Yet Mr. Sibleyras’ play - leavened by Mr. Stoppard’s clever banter - does not mock the elderly or the smallness of their lives. Instead, the play is a softly heroic treatment of three war heroes for whom death is a familiar presence. They decide to take on one final adventure - granted, an impossible and faintly ridiculous adventure - before the outside world completely forgets them.

Mr. Vreeke takes the cast through the play with the grace of classical musicians performing an etude. The actors work beautifully and seamlessly together, with Mr. Dow providing the proper balance between Mr. Tolaydo’s high ebullience and Mr. Cosham’s consummately low notes.

You might think you know where a 90-minute play about three old, disabled veterans on a foolish quest will end up, but “Heroes” forgoes the obvious and instead thwarts expectations. What could have been a staged sitcom about codgers is a charming play about the human instinct to break free from whatever confines and isolates us, an instinct that does not diminish with age.

RATING: ***1/2

WHAT: “Heroes” by Gerard Sibleyras, translated by Tom Stoppard

WHERE: MetroStage, 1201 N. Royal St., Alexandria

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 5 and 8:30 p.m. on Saturdays, 3 and 7 p.m. on Sundays. Through May 24.

TICKETS: $40 to $45

PHONE: 800/494-8497

WEB SITE: www.metrostage.org

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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