Three unlikely friends are looking for an unlikely escape.
That’s what “Heroes,” an adapted French play presented by Tampa Repertory Theatre and opening Thursday, gives the audience: three characters forming a camaraderie through a shared mission that infuses both humor and drama into a contemporary look at how war veterans and elderly people are treated later in life.
“It’s not sledgehammer about the issues, but its very character driven in each has their own trauma and issues from their life and at different ages,” said TampaRep artistic director C. David Frankel, who also stars as one of the main characters. “There’s some slapstick in it, but it’s also not a laugh riot. Even though we don’t like to use the word, its a dramedy because it will make you laugh, but it still has heart.”
British playwright Sir Tom Stoppard (“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” the basis of the screenplay for the film “Shakespeare in Love”) adapted “Heroes” from the 2003 French play “Le Vent Des Peupliers” by Gérald Sibleyras. “Heroes” retains Sibleyras’ story and characters, though the dialogue is Stoppard’s.
Set in 1959, “Heroes” follows aging World War I heroes Gustave, Philippe and Henri as they plan their escape from a retired soldiers’ home.
“I think it has a broad appeal, even though it’s more likely to appeal to an older crowd,” Frankel said. “They may recognize themselves, but as for a younger crowd, they may see parents, grandparents, uncles, which will make it wide ranging. … It’s witty and charming and not pedantic at all.”
Frankel plays Henri, and veteran local theater actors Jim Wicker and Steve Mountan play Philippe and Gustave, respectively. In the French retirement home, each character has been there for some time, and Gustave is the newcomer. Each character has a rapport (as well as falling out) with the other while trying to escape the home and the unseen but Nurse Ratched-like Sister Madeline. In the intermission-less play, Gustave, Phillippe and Henri plot their escape as comical hindrances get in their way.
“Sister Madeline becomes their common enemy, as each interacts with her differently,” Frankel said. “It’s how the three become comrades in their escape, in which now they’re friends, and probably never would have been.
“But that’s the mystery of the play: who are these guys and what makes them all very different and how they can be friends. They’re the loners at the home that become real friends.”
Correspondent Mike Camunas can be reached at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @MikeCamunas.