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Gerald Carpenter: Santa Paula Theater Center Plays Tom Stoppard’s ‘Heroes’

Currently on the Main Stage at the Santa Paula Theater Center is Tom Stoppard's translation/adaptation of Heroes by Gerald Sibleyras.

Tom Puckett, left, David Ralphe and Richard Winterstein star in Heroes at the Santa Paula Theater Center.

The play is directed by Eric Stein with sets by Mike Carnahan, costumes by Barbara Pedziwiatr, lighting by Gary Richardson, and starring Tom Puckett, David Ralphe and Richard Winterstein.

The French title of Heroes is Le Vent Des Peupliers. This means "The Wind in the Poplars." Because that was too close for comfort to "The Wind in the Willows," the English producers urged Stoppard to come up with a different title for his adaptation.

The play is set in 1959, in a home for veterans of World War I. The three main characters are all veterans, and "to tell you the truth," Stoppard observed, at the time, "if Charles Wood hadn't written a play called Veterans [in 1972], we would have called it that." So, he called it Heroes — almost certainly intending irony.

While the characters have a certain eccentric dignity, and are not cowards, they are more enduring than heroic — like T.S. Eliot's first-person plural, in The Dry Salvages, "Who are only undefeated/Because we have gone on trying." What is more, Heroes is a comedy, not a tragedy, and the "heroes" of comedy tend to be mock-heroes at best. So it is here.

Like Joseph Conrad and Vladimir Nabokov, Stoppard is a master of English prose for whom English is the second language. (It occurs to me, writing this, that all three men were Slavs — Conrad a Pole, Nabokov a Russian and Stoppard a Czech — but this is not the place to consider this curious singularity.) Conrad and Nabokov might have envied Stoppard's success as a playwright, since they both gave it a shot. Nabokov's The Walz Invention is an amusing read, but I don't think it would play very well. But Stoppard's one novel, Lord Malquist and Mr. Moon (1966) is, as Anthony Lane said of Ondaatje's The English Patient, it is "so finely written as to be, for me, virtually unreadable."

Sibleyras' characters are mere outlines — even their war experiences don't seem to have had a shaping influence — but Stoppard puts dialog in their mouths that keeps us paying attention and laughing at all the right places.

Heroes plays at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 2:30 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 12. Admission is $20 for adults, $18 for seniors and students, and $15 for children. Reservations can be made through the Santa Paula Theater Center Box Office at 805.525.4645 or online by clicking here

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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