Monday, March 9, 2009



By Gerald Sibleyras, translated by Tom Stoppard. Directed by Carl Forsman. Keen Company. (CLOSED)

Three veteran stage actors play three WWII vets in an old-soldiers' home, and while some critics are simply charmed to spend time in their presence, most are underwhelmed by French author Gerald Sibleyras' slight, uneventful play, even in a translation by Tom Stoppard. Of note is the fact that John Cullum is currently high-tailing it from performing the opening scene in August: Osage County to headline this small show--and, as Simon Saltzman reports, his first line in Heroes is "I love the month of August."

American Theatre Web B+
(Andy Propst) Goes down pretty smoothly...Translated with a sort of amiable colloquialism by Tom Stoppard...Under the steady hand of director Carl Forsman, the trio of Broadway veterans turns in solid performances that are filled with delightful quirks and moving nuance. And, though the play evaporates like a gentle wind that might blow through across the terrace where these distinguished veterans pass the time, the opportunity to see these three men exert their not insignificant talents alongside one another is a grand one.

Theatermania B+
(Barbara & Scott Siegel) Once you get a handle on its three increasingly endearing characters, you are going to love Heroes, being presented by the Keen Company at Theatre Row. This award-winning work by French playwright Gerald Sibleyras, presented here in a translation by Tom Stoppard, sneaks up on you. The play seems at first a bit arch and rather formal in an off-putting sort of way. But it is ultimately very funny -- as well as a warm and deeply moving meditation on aging and companionship -- thanks in large part to the exceptional performances of John Cullum, Jonathan Hogan, and Ron Holgate under the direction of Carl Forsman.

Talkin' Broadway B
(Matthew Murray) Doesn’t have an original thought in its head or an original funny bone in its body. But that doesn’t make this compact, utterly irrelevant star vehicle for three mature actors any less winning...The absurdity of such a lightweight outing populated with the powerful actors John Cullum, Ron Holgate, and Jonathan Hogan is not far removed from the absurdity that Henri, Gustave, and Phillipe, whom they respectively play, endure in 1959 as they live out their final years in a French veterans’ home...So despite the fact that nothing of consequence happens, they and director Carl Forsman still seemingly take you on a once-in-a-lifetime ride...The actors’ don’t give complex performances; in fact, it's often hard to tell they’re giving performances at all. But they embody exactly the history that Sibleyras and Stoppard want to remind you has already passed almost entirely into legend. As if in kinship with them, Forsman has made his staging relentlessly, uncharacteristically mild and respectful.

Variety C+
(Sam Thielman) "Heroes" benefits from helmer and Keen a.d. Carl Forsman's sure hand, excellent design work by the ubiquitous Beowulf Borritt and some choice acting. It's a shame the play's Gotham premiere hasn't had a few more rehearsals, though--this piece could use a good deal more of the company's trademark polish and precision...Keen Company's choices frequently border on the sentimental. But here, without a perfectly tuned production to sweep the audience along, the play's little flaws and eccentricities become more apparent, and "Heroes" ends up feeling maudlin and small. If you sit down and think about it after the show, you can see the appeal of the play. But you have to sit down and think about it...With Stoppard's translation, the characters' crabby exchanges get that little Wildean sparkle that characterizes the playwright's own work. And Stoppard delicately brings out Sibleyras' optimistic notion that any two of these three old cusses are strong enough to haul the other one along behind them.

Daily News C+
(Joe Dziemianowicz) A whisper-thin comedy by French playwright Gerald Sibleyras about three World War I vets living in a nun-run home in 1959...The trio plan to take flight to some nearby trees to escape that fate, a scheme that never quite takes off. The same is true of this production, staged by Carl Forsman...The cast is credible. Stoppard’s script musters a few laughs. And there’s something to be said for the bittersweet all-for-one, one-for-all camaraderie of the trio. But when all was said and done, I was just like that stone dog — unmoved.

Backstage C-
(David A. Rosenberg) Meant to be a funny-sad observation of men who rage against the dying of the light. But what should be poignant and poetic here becomes harsh and heavy-handed...The author says his play, which won the 2006 Olivier Award for best comedy, is "about the universal desire to escape the confines of life." That lofty description is all but hidden in director Carl Forsman's amusing but unsubtle production. Only at the end, in a symbolic enactment of the flight of migrating geese, does the evening become more than a rambling series of tepid situations. C-
(Martin Denton) What troubles me about Keen Company's production of that the depths of this absurdism, and its purpose, is almost entirely subsumed by director Carl Forsman's heavy-handed naturalistic staging of the play. There's no magic here, no sparkle; just a rather slow-moving story of three pathetic old men sniping at one another. Things may improve: at the performance reviewed, all three actors (John Cullum as Henri, Jonathan Hogan as Philippe, and Ron Holgate as Gustave) seemed to still be learning their lines; perhaps once they've got them all down, they'll relax into more interesting and complex characterizations.

Time Out NY C-
(Adam Feldman) Heroes won a Molière Award in Paris in 2003 and an Olivier Award in London in 2006, both for Best Comedy, so one must assume that some essential baggage has been lost in the Atlantic. (It earns almost no laughs here at all.) Tom Stoppard’s astringent English text retains a curiously formal and Gallic air—the dialogue always sounds translated—that meshes uncomfortably with the sincerity to which Keen Company is devoted. Perhaps Heroes needs a larger stage and a broader style to pull off its comedic effects, as the three men devise an inchoate plot to escape to Indochina; scaled down to the intimate Clurman Theatre, the show often seems baggy and lethargic

Lighting & Sound America D+
(David Barbour) There's nothing to the script, aside from a series of running gags delivered with metronomic regularity, and, for a bit of color and dramatic heft, the occasional reminder that the grim reaper is near...It's tempting to blame Tom Stoppard's translation for this bland, not terribly amusing laughter-and-tears concoction--and, indeed, it's hard to see what drew the most articulate and intellectual playwright in the English-speaking world to an enterprise that resembles nothing so much as a kind of Gallic edition On Golden Pond. Whether you will find this spry trio and their vaudevillian dialogues amusing will be a matter of taste...Even a trio of skillful old pros has to struggle to get the best out of this material.

The New York Times D
(Wilborn Hampton) Mainly a sitcom in which the geezers behave oddly while plotting various escapades, like an escape to a copse of poplars they can see from the nursing home’s terrace, where they meet daily to quibble and quarrel and get on one another’s nerves. A fourth character is the stone statue of a dog that sits on the terrace and becomes a point of lively contention. The humor comes mainly from the foibles of these men...Mr. Stoppard has turned Mr. Sibleyras’s French bons mots into mildly amusing British witticisms, but the comedy is mostly of the one-liner variety...Neither Carl Forsman’s direction nor the performances by the accomplished actors — John Cullum (Henri), Ron Holgate (Gustave) and Jonathan Hogan (Philippe) — manage to bring the characters to life.

CurtainUp F
(Simon Saltzman) [A] listless, stagnant play by Gérald Sibleyras...The terrace setting designed by Beowulf Boritt is evocative enough: A blue sky with some clouds is visible above the ivy- covered terrace walls. A few chairs and the statue of a stone dog complete the décor...[In] Stoppard's stiff and pretentious translation...virtually nothing spoken has a ring of truth or plain-speak. Director Carl Forman has maneuvered the three fine actors deftly through a play that is not about heroes or particularly heroic. Despite its London success in 2005 and a previous American production in Los Angeles, one can only wonder why the commendably distinctive Keen Company would want to mount it.

American Theatre Web B+ 11; Theatermania B+ 11; Talkin' Broadway B 10; Variety C+ 8; Daily News C+ 8; Backstage C- 7; TONY C- 7; C- 7; LS&A D+ 5; The New York Times D 4; CurtainUp F 1; TOTAL: 79/11=7.18 (C)

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