SPRING GREEN, Wis. - When I was growing up we had a family friend, Donald, who had been a childhood friend of my Uncle Neal. The two joined the Army together, fought through World War II, and were together when my uncle was killed on the Anzio beachhead.
Donald came home, built a life and raised a family. He always remained close to my grandparents. And, to the day he died, Donald refused to sit in any chair that wasn't backed by a solid wall.
War does things to people, even to those who aren't physically wounded in battle. American Players Theatre's current production of Gerald Sibleyras' play "Heroes" takes on the question of aging warriors.
The play is set in a European nursing home and features three elderly veterans, Henri, played by Paul Bentzen; Gustave, played by Jonathan Smoots; and Philippe, played by John Lister. Breana Jarvis also has an almost-non-speaking role as the nun, Sister Bernadette.
The characters are pretty-much two dimensional. Philippe has shrapnel in his head and is given to frequent seizures. Gustave affects a role as a natural leader, but he is terrified of leaving the home, or even the small terrace on which the play is set. Henri is a perpetual optimist who is, nevertheless, terrified of the convalescent home administration.
The play is funny. Sibleyras has a good eye for the hypocrisies and idiosyncrasies of mankind. Smoots and Bentzen are well-known characters to APT audiences and they don't disappoint. For that matter, neither does Lister, who is a more recent addition to the acting company.
But, whether the play itself adds much real insight into the ongoing price paid by soldiers, I'm not so sure.
Its underlying theme seems to be, first you get old and, then, you die. Which is, of course, true, but no more true for an aging soldier than for an aging anyone else.
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