...Not About Heros ...

February 14, 2002


Not very flattering review. Has anyone seen the play? Can you agree or disagree with what it written?

WEEKLY                      November 2 1995        Toronto's arts newspaper                 ....free every Thursday
ON STAGE                                                      ON STAGE

                           NOT ABOUT HEROES

Featuring Michael Mahonen and Stephen Russell. Written by Stephen MacDonald. Directed by Christopher McHarge.
Irving Zucker Theatre, 190 King William St., Hamilton. To Nov. 11. $19-$44, (905) 522-7529.

                                  by   CHRISTOPHER WINSOR

Chances are in a play about two poets -- in this case WWI-era Brits Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen -- you're likely to hear some verse. It's also a safe
bet that the playwright will use heightened or rarified language himself, because it's obvious he's in love with words. Not About Heroes delivers on both counts.

The story of the mentor/student relationship that develops between Sassoon and Owen as they recuperate in a wartime hospital, the show amounts to an overly highfalutin treatment of a basically staid and decorous relationship. It's also a plodding affair, handicapped as much by the play's structure as by performances that blow too hot or too cold.

Playwright MacDonald shoots himself in the foot twice. The first is the cheap framing device that attempts to extort emotions that have yet to be earned. Very
early in the action, Sassoon turns to the audience and announces that Owen was killed in action one year later. This is a beggar's ploy.

The second and fatal shot is that almost the whole script is written in the past tense -- whether in Sassoon's descriptions of their encounters or in the many letters
that flow between them. The result is that nothing ever happens, except that the characters describe what has already happened. This technique might work for prose, but it's deadly theatre. Good theatre happens now, before your eyes, unfolding as if for the first time.

It doesn't help that Michael Mahonen as Owen demonstrates no range as an actor. Mahonen is stilted, over-earnest and monotonous throughout. Stephen Russell
as Sassoon has a better ear for the unnatural rhythms of the text, and a more musical voice. Yet he also adopts a melodramatic tack.

Director Christopher McHarge's contribution is invisible. His blocking is unimaginative and ambiguous. Should not the choice have been made to stage this entirely
as a memory play (Sassoon's)? That would easily have worked on Dennis Horn's attractive and non-realistic set.

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