Godot-awaiting Didi and Gogo had a tree, relief-awaiting Gustave, Henri, and Phillippe have a terrace. Also a statue of a dog, but little else in Gerald Sibleyras’ Le Vent des Peupliers (The Wind in the Poplars), retitled Heroes in Stoppard’s translation.
The heroes of Heroes—grumpy, agoraphobic Gustave (Ralph Cosham), sunny but changeable Henri (Michael Tolaydo) and narcoleptic Phillippe (John Dow)—are French military retirees who bridle at spending their golden years in a retirement home managed by a tyrannical 5-foot-tall nun. To hear them tell it, she’s a cross between the kaiser and Methusela, though as these three old codgers barely seem to have one set of brain cells between them, they may not be the most reliable narrators. Regardless, they’re snippy enough about one another that they scarcely need someone else to complain about.
Henri, for instance, need do no more than utter the evening’s seemingly benign first sentence, “I love the month of August,” to have Gustave rolling his eyes, muttering “I knew it couldn’t last,” and launching into a dissertation on the ills of every month in the calendar. And while they’re determined to defend their little terrace against incursions by other rest-home residents (“with barbed wire, sandbags, trenches—it’ll be like old times”) their concentration never lasts long, since Phillippe keeps conking out when his brain waves short out on the shrapnel in his head. “One day he’ll leave us in the middle of a sentence,” says a mortality-obsessed Gustave. “He’ll go out on a comma.”
Their antipathy for the diminutive nun eventually results in a joint resolve to run away, but even united, they’re working at cross-purposes. Gustave wants to head for Indochina, Henri angles for a picnic, and Phillippe—ever the diplomat—suggests they compromise by visiting the poplars they can see swaying in the breeze on a distant hill.
When Phillippe’s proposal carries the day, director John Vreeke marshals a frenzy of planning worthy of the Allied assault on Omaha Beach. Blankets and provisions must be acquired, routes mapped, and knots knotted in the fire hose that someone decides should be used to ford a river. Happily, cooler heads will prevail as they realize that should they actually reach the top of the hill where the poplars sway in the breeze, there’ll be another valley on the other side, possibly with another terrace, and another dog statue. Resistance, in short, is futile—at least in the battle against age, that great, existential equalizer. Still, where there’s a campaign, there are bound to be heroes, and the ones at Metrostage are a hoot.