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THEATER REVIEW: "Heroes" showcases acting skills of three golden actors

Three geezers sit on a park bench.

Sound familiar? Reminiscent of “I’m Not Rappaport” or “Grumpy Old Men,” perhaps?

It’s the same idea. But these three are World War I veterans, living in a old soldiers’ home in rural France. It’s 1959 and they sit not on a public park bench but on a terrace within their facility – one they have claimed for themselves, and are hellbent on protecting from the “barbarians” who live in the same place.

Henri (Ray Reinhardt) walks with a cane, but otherwise seems to be in good shape. Gustave (Ken Ruta) is dapper in suit and bowler hat, his Medal of Honor meticulously placed on his jacket pocket. Philippe (Jonathan McMurtry) still has a piece of shrapnel lodged in his head that causes him to pass out every five minutes.

“Heroes,” Tom Stoppard’s translation of French playwright Gérald Sibleyras’ “Le Vent des Peupliers,” won the Laurence Olivier Best New Comedy award after its 2006 West End debut. It plays through Nov. 13 at North Coast Repertory Theatre, directed by David Ellenstein.

“Heroes” has a flimsy plot, but boasts fine production values and offers a rare chance to see these three exceptional actors on one stage.

McMurtry, a staple for 50 years at the Old Globe Theatre, has performed in all 37 Shakespeare plays and in more than 200 productions. The San Diego Theatre Critics Circle awarded him its 2008 Craig Noel Award for lifetime achievement.

Ruta, an associate artist with the Old Globe, is a founding-company member of Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theatre, Cincinnati’s Playhouse-In-The-Park and of San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre, where he is based. He has appeared on Broadway and has received many awards for his various performances.

Reinhardt, also based in San Francisco and a founding company member of ACT, where he worked for 29 years in various plays. He has also appeared on Broadway, notably with John Gielgud, and in film and television.

Life has slowed considerably for Henri, Gustave and Philippe, who seem to spend most of their time on the terrace in the company of a stone boxer statue, arguing with each other and discussing women, the past and Sister Madeleine, who runs the place with a seeming iron fist.

It’s a pleasant if uneventful existence, but they take their pleasure where they find it. Henri takes walks into town, and has made a great discovery – there is a girls’ school there, and a pretty “rose” of a teacher.

The agoraphobic Gustave answers letters sent to Philippe by his sister, because Philippe insists “we’ve been saying the same things to each other for ten years” and he’s bored.

Philippe, who once studied classical piano, spends a fair amount of time watching the stone boxer – he is convinced it moves.

Nothing really happens in the play. An announcement that the other terrace will soon be closed for renovations makes Gustave fearful that unwashed hordes of other residents will soon invade, and the trio consider options such as escape and wartime maneuvers.

But mainly, they just sit and talk. As such, it seems much longer than its 100 minutes. One wishes for a little conflict, perhaps from alien resident invasion or a serious attempt at escape, even a death.

Still, Marty Burnett’s inviting set, Matt Novotny’s sunny lighting, Chris Luessmann’s French-inspired accordion music and Renetta Lloyd’s personality-reflecting costumes make this sweet but inconsequential play easy to watch.

The details

“Heroes” plays through Nov. 13 at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Suite D in Solana Beach.

Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm.

For tickets call (858) 481-1055 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.