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Arts and Entertainment

Poetry and Post-Trauma in Not About Heroes

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A still from Not About Heroes.

A still from Not About Heroes.
Bright Eyes Productionspensive staging of Stephan MacDonald’s Not About Heroes is an epigraphic presentation of the friendship and poetry of British World War I poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. As promised by its title, the play is indeed “not about heroes,” although its scenes do occur within the context of contemplated heroism. This drama presents several tough-to-tackle themes including collective memory; the art and craft of writing; adoration; the human cost of war; and the bonds that exist between soldiers.

The detail-oriented nature of William Hemmer’s direction becomes immediately evident during the first moments of the play as black-and-white photographs echo images of war casualties and aged institutions behind the active scene elements. Hemmer uses a humble stage as a conduit for all space and time, appointing the audience to the lost time-traveler role. Hemmer summons a ghost to solemnly contemplate a multifaceted paradox -- poetry that still kicks and breathes relevancy while the poet remains long dead and a victim of that which inspired his words.

John Mann’s portrayal of Sassoon falls somewhere between the cognitive acerbity of war ravished Ambrose Bierce and the loving empathy of Stephan Fry playing Oscar Wilde. During the first act of Not About Heroes, his performance is thick with wistful anticipation and curiosity as he takes his audience meekly by the hand, guiding methodically through plot and scene. During the second act, however, his performance blossoms and is inherently changed by a traumatic event. The concentrated yearning in Mann’s brow and voice captures the deep unrequited love Sassoon for Owen, and longing for a widowhood that he never got chance to have.

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Robert Hardin plays Owen as a dichotomy. At times, he is the whispered memory of a fawnish poet wonder boy. Gentle and afflicted with worry, each beckoning gesture and spoken word conveys adoration, naivete, and whimsy. Hardin literally appears to be the living incarnation of a dewy and wide-eyed anime cartoon. But while reading the poetry of Wilfred Owen, he strong, stoic, graceful, and howls humanity with composure. Hardin gives weight and depth to Owen’s line “the poetry is the pity.”

Not About Heroes is playing through Aug. 22 at Lounge Theatre 2, 6201 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90038. Tickets can be purchased online through Plays 411 or via phone at 323-960-7744.