Puzzled by "Heroes," charmed by Rose
Long after a war has ended and the public wounds have healed, the participants continue to struggle with their personal injuries, physical and psychic. Ask the counselors who work with Vietnam War veterans.
Maybe that is what "Heroes" is about. Unfortunately, after seeing stagings of the play at Door County's Peninsula Players last year and at the Broadway Theatre Center last weekend, I am unsure of its intent and identity. The Milwaukee Chamber Theatre is producing the show here.
The play began its life in France, where it was written by Gerald Sibleyras and titled "The Wind in the Poplars." British dramatist Tom Stoppard translated it, and the English version was called "Heroes."
Set in a French military hospital, three WWI vets spend their time sitting on a patio, intentionally isolated from the other residents. The year is 1959, and the men are playing out the string, waiting to die.
We receive hints that these fellows were damaged in the war. One of the men frequently blacks out; another has a gimpy leg. A third appears to have emotional issues.
But the characters are so underdeveloped, we don't know for sure. Worse than that, we don't care. They don't connect with us.
Is the attachment one of the men has with a concrete statue of a dog real or is it simply a running comic gag? Is the play a wan comedy or was it meant to be more?
"Heroes" seems to be about the quirks and foibles of three old codgers who sit around and bicker. If any value is to be derived from it, the acting must be stellar, and it is in the Chamber Theatre production.
Director C. Michael Wright calls on a triumvirate of Milwaukee veteran actors, and it is a delight to see them together on stage. Richard Halverson plays the most interesting character, a rather haughty and bitter man, and he nails it with superb timing and an acid tongue. Dan Mooney and Robert Spencer also sculpt individual portraits from this bland script.
"Heroes" runs through Dec. 18.
RIP Rose Pickering
Offstage, away from the characters they play, actors are like everyone else. Some are bubbly and gregarious, some are shy and unassuming, and most are somewhere in between. If they are good actors, audiences don't know the actual person.
That was certainly the case with Rose Pickering, who died at 64 on Thanksgiving Day after a lengthy struggle with cancer. Milwaukee Rep patrons who saw her during her 37 seasons with the company often witnessed an actress playing big and brassy characters. She was seldom a wall flower on a stage.
But Rose was bashful and even dainty the only time she agreed to be interviewed by me during her long run at the Rep. She wanted to be far from the limelight when she wasn't performing, and company officials had to coax her into sitting for an interview. The occasion was her 25th anniversary with the Rep.
We met in the early afternoon in a casual employee lounge a few steps from the company's rehearsal halls. Jeans and sweatshirts were the standard uniform, but Rose, who was not going to be photographed, came dressed as if her destination were high tea.
She was sweetly disarming in her candor and genteel in her manner. Rose spoke at length about her career-long battle with stage fright. The struggle was so fierce, she frequently threw up before making her first entrance onstage for a performance.
Talk about a love affair with your job. Rose Pickering embodied an artist's need to create, and nothing was going to stop her. Nothing did for 37 seasons.
She was the first lady of the Milwaukee Rep. That role was for real.
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