At the Geffen Playhouse, three legendary actors bring “Heroes” to life: Len Cariou ( Secret Window , Flags of our Fathers , About Schmidt ), George Segal (“Just Shoot Me,” The Cable Guy ) and Richard Benjamin ( Deconstructing Harry , Keeping Up with the Steins ).
Thea Sharrock, who directed the 2005 London premiere of “Heroes” at Wyndham Theatre starring Richard Griffiths, John Hurt and Ken Stott also stages the Los Angeles version, which was the winner of the 2006 Laurence Olivier Award for Best Comedy.
Oscar-winner Tom Stoppard translated the script from the 2003 French play “Le Vent des Peupliers” by Gerald Sibleyras. “Peupliers” has been translated and produced in countries worldwide including Germany and Uruguay and now the United States. The play premiered at the Theatre Montparnasse and received four Molieres nominations including Best Author.
For the most part, “Heroes” doesn't do much to grasp audience focus. All of the performances are fine, if not great, but the play itself seems to lack something, perhaps it's lost in translation.
The characters have arcs and growth. The dialogue is often witty and fun. But the overall production, plot and theme are simply blasé.
The characters themselves don't appear to have much depth from their inception, and the audience can't find a whole lot to care about in these characters, aside form the premise that they are all aging, ailing and recuperating from war wounds – physical and mental.
The characters are not without any trace of merit, though. They indulge in witty banter and often earn well-deserved laughs.
The original title, “Le Vent de Peupliers,” translates to “The Wind in the Poplars” in English, which Stoppard felt sounded too much like “The Wind in the Willows.” The three men refer to the poplars, the trees they can see in the distance (with binoculars, of course) and how the wind sways them. Perhaps they sympathize with such lives that appear free, swaying in the wind, yet planted in one spot of the earth, unable to leave.
The agoraphobic fellow, Gustave (played by Segal) eventually overcomes his fear and ventures out for a walk with Henri (Cariou). He even nods a greeting towards a young woman they encounter during the walk, but his attempt proves pathetic, unnoticed by the intended recipient.
Phillipe (Benjamin) never quite gets over his fainting spells, and Benjamin, as the complacent one in the group, is delightful to watch.
The three men plan a retreat together, but the plan goes awry when Henri realizes Gustave plans to bring along the stone dog statue that accompanies them on the terrace.
The stone dog exchanges are cute and, alas, quite profound as each character relays a distinctly different reaction. Gustave takes ownership of this doggie statue; perhaps realizing he will not have to leave the property if he sticks to his guns, claiming the statue is the fourth member of the little group. Henri, the positive one, is adamantly against the inclusion of the inanimate object, and Phillipe passively dreams up ways to transport the pup.
These very different men have a very tight bond to each other, enough so that there is never any question that each will return for conversation every day to the same terrace. Sympathetic personalities, of course, but not quite enough to give their audience lasting impressions.
Geffen Playhouse is located at 10886 Le Conte Avenue in West Los Angeles. Show times: Tues-Thurs, 7:30 p.m.; Fri, 8 p.m.; Sat, 4 p.m. & 8:30 p.m.; Sun 2 p.m. & 7 p.m. Tickets: $35-110. For tickets and more information, call (310) 208-5454 or visit www.geffenplayhouse.com.