CORNELIUS – Sitting on a bench with a blue sky and stonewall as the backdrop, Jack Wilson, Don Cook and Bill Boyd talk and joke as if they are great friends shooting the breeze.
But they are actually on the set of a new play at The Warehouse Performing Arts Center and their comical conversation is really about hatching an escape plan.
“Heroes,” a play rewritten by Tom Stoppard, adapted from Gerald Sibleyras’ French play “Le Vent des Peupliers,” runs through April 6. Tickets cost $21 for adults or $16 for seniors, groups and students.
The play centers around three veterans, Gustave, Henri and Philippe, who believe they are inmates in a home in France for retired World War I veterans under the charge of a nun named Madeline. From the terrace, they spend time arguing over whether the stone dog is moving or if there is a conspiracy at the home and brainstorm grand ideas of going to Indochina – or at least out for a picnic.
Wilson plays the role of Gustave, and describes the character as “heading off the rails of mental stability” with a personality he coined as “tolerably deranged.” He’s the mastermind behind the trio escaping. Cook is Henri, described as having only one and a half legs in operation and has the “closest grasp of reality,” he said. Boyd is Philippe, who suffers from paranoia.
None of the characters have ever been married or had close relationships.
Though billed as a “playful, bawdy and heart-achingly funny,” it has serious overtones with tender moments.
“The characters are stuck here and don’t realize they are stuck here. They want to go venture out and relive the glory days to prove they are cable of doing things,” said Stage Manager Katherine Fortner.
The actors said the play takes people away from the rigor of daily life.
From a literal sense, the play is called “Heroes” because the characters all served their country. While all three actors are veterans in real life, they say it has no real bearing on their performance.
But a main theme is trying to make more out of life.
“Every age can get something out of it, but an older person will understand certain things,” said Director Divina Cook. “Young people will enjoy the humor of it. It’s open to your own interpretation.”
“But it’s also the fact they are a hero just in surviving life,” she added. “They are looking forward to continuing to live and want to do something instead of sitting in bed waiting for death.”
Wilson, who lives in Cornelius, said this is one of the most difficult plays he’s done because it’s the most serious.
“You really have to be that person for a period of time,” he said. “You can’t be thinking about picking up a quart of milk on the way home. All that has to go away.”
Boyd takes it a step further brainstorming a back-story for his character to prepare.
“Experience turned them into what they are,” he explained. “I try to create an experience for the characters.”
It’s also an experience for attendees watching because The Warehouse offers an intimate setting where the play and the audience merge into one, Fortner said.
“It makes you part of the family, and that’s why I love working here,” she said.