I feel myself smiling as I recall the delightful evening I enjoyed at Heartland Theatre this week, attending the preview performance of their current offering, "Heroes" originally entitled "Le Vent de Peuplier (The Wind in the Poplars)" by Gerald Sibleyras.

This poignant French comedy, with exquisite translation by Tom Stoppard, is not heavy-laden with convoluted plot points, nor does it offer any adrenaline infused roller coaster rides.

Nonetheless, my audience mates and I were completely captivated by the bittersweet portrait of three aging World War I veterans who spend their days out on the terrace of their retirement home, which they share with a rather large ceramic dog.

The "Heroes" of this evening — offering splendid, well-defined characters — are the very talented Joe Penrod, who plays haughty nobleman Gustave, and the incomparable Todd Wineburner as the irascible Henri, along with fortunate newcomer George Peterson-Karlan, who earns his stripes as the syncopal Philippe. (I say fortunate, because an opportunity to work with the aforementioned dynamic duo is very much a master class.)

Under the direction of John P. Ficca, the trio takes turns annoying one another with their views on life, both in and out of the retirement home.

Philippe and Gustave, the new guy at the villa, are rather fond of gazing at the poplar trees they see across the way (hence the original title). Henri would rather gaze upon the young girls he's discovered on one of his daily off site constitutionals.

All three have a not-too-pleasant opinion of the home's administrator, a sort of "Attila the Nun," whom Philippe is convinced is out to get him.

Throughout the course of the evening, each gentleman, whether willingly or not, reveals a private truth that endears them to each other, as well as to we eager onlookers.

To complete the picture, scenic designer Kenneth P. Johnson has created a lovely terrace in earthy stucco and patchwork pavers to serve as backdrop and costume designer Cathy Sutliff has outfitted the characters smartly in similar attire that reflected men of their era.

Finally, sound designer Chris Stucky, through his clever use of music, transports us, just for a moment, away from the cold winds of the Midwest to the French countryside, where we, too, almost, could gaze upon the poplars. Lovely.

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Stiller is a freelance writer who reviews plays for The Pantagraph.


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