Twisted Carousel Tackles Tom Stoppard in Heroes

By Andrew Chin, May 24, 2016

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Twisted Carousel Theater returns with a very different show to last year’s The Devil’s Fables. This adaptation of Tony Award winner Tom Stoppard’s 2005 play takes place in a retirement home. Set in 1959, the comedy follows three World War One vets and stars Mark Edwards, Curt Mabry and Paul Collins. Producer Lexi Kalteis and director Julien Bertrand gives us a preview.

Congratulations on your company’s second show. Heroes looks much different than Devil’s Fables. Why did you decide to adapt this play?
LK: Thank you! Yes, it's as different from Devils Fables as it possibly could be. I decided to go ahead and produce Heroes because not only is the director a good friend of mine, but also because he and the entire cast are a tremendously talented group of individuals that I have lots of faith in. The story is very decent, something that is lacking in this town, and yes I, too, was guilty when I put Satan at center stage for the audience to cheer for in The Devils Fables. The story behind Heroes is one that intrigues and very much interests me and I'm sure many will agree with me after having seen it.

The story follows three war veterans in a retirement home. How do the characters differ from each other and what sort of journey do they go through?
JB: All three characters are WWI veterans. It's 1959. They "closed down" their lives before the Indochina war and have renounced the world as one goes into religion. Gustave is a former army general now scared of stepping out in the street, dreaming up traveling tales, and exploding at the little-mindedness of his fellow residents; Philippe is the youngest (in his sixties) but passes out every so often because of a bit of shrapnel in his skull - he still thinks of women and never takes sides in arguments; Henri limps, wants to be "nice" to everyone, and is a kill-joy mainly because of his inability to dream. 

These three old guys could be "miserable sods" but are younger than ever, and as eccentric as possible. Their biggest journey is not so much reaching the "poplars on the hill" as they set out to do, but rather coming to terms with their old age, their past, their physical inadequacies, in a nutshell, their limitations. However terrifying being old might be depicted in the play, their only (hilarious) escape is their slightly deranged minds and the belief that if they really wanted to set off, they could.

Who are the show’s cast members and what do they bring to the characters?
JB: I feel extremely lucky to be working with professional actors who put their faith in my vision and ideas. Curt Mabry is larger than life. Like Gustave, he magnifies everything in dramatic ways (his background in kids' TV shows, theatre, and improv as the head of 7-year-old Zmack would help) but offers a touch of poetry and sensitivity that I have rarely seen in other actors. Gustave is a challenging character to embody, full of contradictions, pretense, and genuine pain. Curt rises up to the challenge magnificently.

Mark Edwards is one of the humblest actors I've worked with. He will effortlessly follow directions and jump right into the action. His experience on Shanghai's stages is invaluable. Mark's refined and quirky take on life fuels the inspiration for Henri's odd life choices. Henri has shut down many aspects of his life (love, travels, or any changes), and wants everyone to "be happy", in spite of his little, squared-off existence. The complexity of this character hasn't escaped Mark's sharp eye.

Paul Collins is a natural. His northern lilt gives paranoid Philippe a perfectly-dosed touch of insane. If Henri and Gustave offer funny verbal fights, Philippe adds a lot of physical comedy to the play, and Paul's lanky body lends itself to it perfectly. I love how Paul delivers some of the funniest lines in the play - it's all about that perfect intonation and timing that Paul nails down right from day one.

Devils Fables was a very extravagant production. Does Heroes have the same type of values or is it something much different?
LK: Heroes is not as extravagant as Devils fables, as there is no lavish make up or colorful costumes. The entire feel feel of the play is done through the wonderful acting of the cast, the beautiful and very thought through music and the minimalist set design.

Tom Stoppard adapted this from a French play. Are there any differences between the two versions and which version did you follow with this?
JB: The English version is extremely close to the French one (Sibleyras and Stoppard worked together), and although some of the names have been changed, the French "touch" is still present: the scene takes place in France, and they are French retired soldiers. I performed the play as Henri a few years back in the French version and at the time offered to translate the play for English subtitles (the Tom Stoppard script wasn't available then), so this has given me a great knowledge and insights into the text. It looks like Tom Stoppard sometimes went for more heavy-handed symbolism in the dialogues, and I have preferred the French version's lighter approach in those rare instances. I have made a few modifications here and there by blending the two versions to offer a truly unique voice for our three likable curmudgeons on stage. I hope you'll enjoy it.

Following this show, what are Twisted Carousel Theater’s plans?
LK: There might be some upcoming shows for Twisted Carousel, however those are still in talks. Nothing is set in stone yet therefore I'll keep that a secret. (smiles)

Is there anything you would like to add?
JB: I like the way the play depicts old people without falling into a caricature. Yes they are funny, but because they tell truths about being old. It is an honest - albeit surreal - depiction of all the concentrated fears and hopes we experience when we age. It's about loneliness, death, friends, memories, bodily functions, and dreams. Yes, I hope you can watch the show and never forget your own dreams!

May 26-29, 8.30pm (Fri-Sat) and 4pm (Sat-Sun), RMB180-200. Anken Green.

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