Tom Stoppard’s work revels in words. His characters speak lines that drip poetry and meaning, and hit on deeper truths even when going for the humor.
He’s not a playwright to be taken lightly. “Arcadia” sometimes takes multiple viewings to absorb the layers; “The Real Thing” has lines so beautiful you catch your breath at the raw truth in the prose. Even his “Shakespeare in Love,” probably his most well-known work, is about words and their power.
Stoppard’s “Heroes,” in production at the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre at Shakespeare & Company, is a play with much humor, much pathos, much brotherhood — and his beautiful, trademark words. It’s an affecting piece, and it’s a piece that’s being done in an almost flawless production.
WHERE: Shakespeare & Company, 70 Kemble St., Lenox, Mass.
WHEN: Through Sept. 1
HOW MUCH: $50-$15
MORE INFO: 413-637-3353, www.shakespeare.org
Gustav, Henri and Phillipe are three World War I veterans living in a French retirement home in 1959. Life is quiet, placid and docile, and there’s little to occupy their time or thoughts but memories of the past, politics within the home (the dastardly, possibly murderous nun who tends to them, for example) and their vague but ever-present worry about death.
When Gustav proposes a final adventure, Henri and Phillipe join in to help plan the escape from their humdrum lives.
Jonathan Epstein, as Gustav, the group’s leader, has both the gravitas and the pathos for the role. It’s not easy to bring an audience from hysterical laughter (which he does, time and again) to tears — but he does that too, and he does it beautifully. His character is fully formed, believable and heartbreakingly real.
Malcolm Ingram’s Phillipe is more of the comic relief, and he does it well, with a twinkle in his eye (even when talking sex or calling a nun an unprintable word.) Robert Lohbauer’s Henri is the voice of reason in the group, but still manages some laughs of his own.
They are a strong team, the three actors. You truly believe they’ve been friends for a long time; that they trust and love one another. They work and play together in an organic way that is an utter joy to watch. Better yet, they seem to be enjoying each other’s company on stage, something you don’t see enough of.
Kevin G. Coleman’s direction is really seamless — not a missed step, not a missed opportunity for a beautiful stage picture. He understands both the humor and the gravity in the piece and makes sure both are equally represented. It’s a fine line to walk, and through his direction, it’s done well.
Patrick Brennan’s set — a simple terrace — is weathered, realistic and actor-friendly. Additional congratulations to whoever on the props staff found the bronze dog statue. By the end of the show, it was as much of a character as the three men.
It is not often a show can make you laugh until you cry, then make you actually cry, all while you revel in the beauty of the words. It’s the power of Tom Stoppard, and the power of these actors and this director.
This is a show not to be missed, and luckily you have the entire summer to catch it.