Jonathan Hogan, Ron Holgate, and John Cullum in Heroes
(© Theresa Squire)
Jonathan Hogan, Ron Holgate, and John Cullum in Heroes
(© Theresa Squire)
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.

The three elderly men on a terrace of a French home for war veterans in 1959 probably wouldn't be friends outside of this institution, but they have found kinship together despite their considerable differences. There's blustering aristocrat Gustave (Holgate), who performed remarkable acts of courage during World War I; Philippe (Hogan), a mild-mannered man who has shrapnel in his head and will black out without warning; and Henri (Cullum), who lost a leg in the Great War but who remains the most practical and reasonable of these three emotionally starved men.

The comedy in this 90-minute, intermissionless play comes largely out of the awkward but very real ways these men deal with their problems. For instance, Philippe doesn't read the letters he gets from his sister. Instead, in a nutty act of generosity, he gives the letters to Gustave, who, having no one in his life, pretends to be Philippe when he writes back -- eventually estranging Phillipe from his entire family.

There is also an ongoing bit about the stone statue of a dog that sits on the terrace. Philippe periodically believes that he sees it moving. Gustave considers them to be a group of four, inclusive of the dog. At one point, after the three men have agreed to contribute to a journal together, there is even an entry by the dog. The dog, however, is not just a source of humor; the statue is a monument to their need of a devoted friend who is always there for them.