Sunday, 19 March 2017 16:13

Likable comedy's jokes hit and miss

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While the title of the King's Town Players' latest production is Heroes, the war veterans at the centre of it certainly don't live up to the billing.

The comedy was originally written in French by Gerald Sibleyras, and the translation of the popular play was entrusted to noted British playwright Tom Stoppard, who added some zingers and stinging dialogue.

The play takes place in 1959 in France, at a home for First World War veterans. Three of them -- Henri (David Lay), Phillipe (Rob Bruce) and Gustave (Barry Yuen) -- spend their time on its terrace chatting, arguing and reminiscing the days away about family, war and sex, among other topics.

For the cantankerous Gustave, who has a way with words, he spends most of his time complaining. When he's asked early on in the play why he doesn't like August, he proceeds to explain why he doesn't like that particular month "¦ or any other month for that matter. Nor does he spare his friend Henri for having a lame leg, injured in the war, making cracks about it whenever he can.

Henri, meanwhile, has been living at the sanatorium for the past quarter-century and is more compliant than his terrace mates. He goes on daily walks, and on one he meets a teacher from a school for young girls, and he starts daydreaming about her.

Phillipe, meanwhile, has his own issues, the most pressing of which is the shrapnel that remains in his body, leaving him prone to passing out randomly and sometimes at the most inopportune times, like when he's beside a freshly dug grave.

When a fellow resident dies, Phillipe is convinced that the incoming one will actually be replacing him because they have the same birthday, and that he will soon be offed.

This causes the grumpy old men to plan their great escape, to a place in the distance where the wind bends the poplar trees.

Gustave has many of the play's best and snarkiest one-liners, and that's a good thing in Yuen's capable hands. He confidently delivered his zingers with the necessary oomph. His diatribe about going on a picnic rather than going to Indochina was a crowd-pleaser.

One of the things about the character of Phillipe is his physical comedy, whether it's one of his many fainting spells or even just the incredulous expression on his face. Bruce excelled, character and facial expressions became more animated as the play soldiered on.

Lay's Henri was overshadowed by the two strong characters with whom he shared the stage, and it was hard to hear some of his lines from the back of the room where I was sitting.

While I liked the play, I didn't find it as uproarious as a few in the audience did on opening night. I found the jokes to be hit and miss, and, as I said, I had trouble hearing some of the exchanges.

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Essentials

Heroes

A comedy written by Gerald Sibleyras, and translated into English by Tom Stoppard.

A King's Town Players production playing Wednesday to Saturday until March 25. The curtain rises at 8 p.m. at the Kingston Yacht Club, 1 Maitland St.

Cast

Phillipe: Rob Bruce

Henri: David S. Lay

Gustave: Barry Yuen 

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