"Heroes," which begins its run tonight at First Presbyterian Theater, mines the laughs available when three aging men are bound together by their grumbling and quarreling.But as is often the case with comedy, there’s a vein of loss and sadness that runs through it, too, said Thom Hofrichter, who plays Henri, one of three French veterans of World War I. Henri, Philippe, played by Daniel Bulau; and Gustave, played by Bob Haluska, all reside in a hospital for soldiers who have suffered some permanent impairment from their war injuries.
Henri still suffers from injuries to legs and can’t get around very well. A piece of shrapnel lodged in Philippe’s head causes him more and more problems as the years pass. And Gustave faces a terrible anxiety at the thought of going outside his familiar environment.
The three old soldiers in 1959 are in what amounts to a retirement home; they are not prisoners. But they share a deep and delusional fear of one of the nurses, and that fear leads them to plot an "escape," Hofrichter said.The play is more than anything else a comedy, he said, filled with sharply crafted jokes in the English translation by Tom Stoppard of the original play by Gerald Sibleyras. The lay of the laughs in this land will be familiar to anyone who’s laughed at one of the "Grumpy Old Men" movies, kindred comedy to which Hofrichter, who is managing artistic director of the theater, compared the play.
"There’s something about old guys who are making things up and arguing with each other," he said, and he said it in kinship, noting that he’s approaching 60 himself.
But there are layers beyond the amusement, too.
"They were casualties of World War I; 40-plus years later, they’re still dealing with it," he said.
"It’s comedy with teeth, comedy that makes you laugh but afterward makes you feel a little bit bad," he said.
"I don’t think they’re asking why they’re dying but why they ever lived at all," Hofrichter said.
"Heroes," a play by Gerald Sibleyras, translated by Tom Stoppard, tells the story of three World War I veterans in long-term care hospital in 1959 who plot to escape.
Performances at First Presbyterian Theater, 300 W. Wayne St., are tonight, Friday, Saturday, Jan. 20-22 and 27 and 28. All shows are at 7:30 p.m., except for Sunday matinees, which are at 2 p.m.
Ticket prices range from $10-$20. Thirty seats at each performance are available free to students, although reservations are required for those seats. For more information on ticket pricing and purchasing, see .firstpres-fw.org/the_arts/theater/tickets/