Pvt. Wars is a one act play by James McClure having an extremely limited run at Bryant Lake Bowl Theater (BLBT) in Uptown. A stripped down piece of theater, it’s success or failure rests of the shoulders of the three actors. This production is a resounding success. Frankly, I cannot begin to tell you what a relief that was. Full disclosure, one of those actors is a friend whom I hadn’t actually seen perform since our college days. I was excited to see him perform again, but also a little anxious. What if he’s bad? What if the play is bad? Well, the answer is then I’d have to write a bad review or simply decline to write one. What a relief when the lights came up at the end of the play, not only were all three of the performers great, but the play itself is a tight intelligent character study, full of humor and humanity. As I mentioned at the opening, this run is extremely short as is the running time of the play, right around an hour and some change. BLBT is the perfect stage for a show like this, tickets are inexpensive, you can arrive early, order food and drinks to enjoy during the show, and still get home before the babysitter has had a chance to raid the liquor cabinet.
The play is broken into short scenes giving us small glimpses into the lives of it’s three characters over an unspecified time period. The setting is a Veterans hospital in the 1970’s, the characters are three patients, it’s never stated, but it seems they are recovering from psychological injuries rather than physical; though at least one of them was injured in the war. The play isn’t about politics or overt about the war in Vietnam, though the subtext is certainly about the costs of war on those who fight them. The focus is really on the ways in which these three men relate to each other and bond. On the surface, some of them appear to hate each other, but even hate is a way of connecting. Gately, the quiet somewhat simple seeming patient, who is constantly trying to repair a radio. He says that if he fixes it, maybe they’ll let him leave. He knows, and the others remind him, he is free to leave whenever he wants to. This is his way of saying he isn’t ready to leave yet, trying to fix the radio is how he manifests trying to fix himself. When it functions again so, he believes, will he. Silvio was wounded, though I don’t get a sense that he’s still physically recovering from his injury but that the nature of the wound has deeply affected his sense of himself and led him to behave psychotically. He is the volatile patient who is compulsively flashing the nurses that which he no longer possesses. He gets along with Gately but is aggressively hostile to the third patient Natwick. Natwick is the wealthy one who grew up in Long Island with summer homes and private schools. It’s easy to see why he’s a target of intimidation for Silvio, everything about him rubs the working class patient the wrong way. What’s interesting is the way they all interact. We gain insight into their relationships and how they connect to one another in spite of themselves. It sounds heavy, but it really doesn’t play that way. It’s surprisingly funny throughout. Well written humor can be as clear a path into a characters soul as a dramatic monologue.
Bryan Bevell plays Gately as a man who takes life as it comes, if radio parts disappear he takes it in stride. He also takes everything literal, and while the character could come off as simple, Bevell gives him an inner stillness and deliberateness that speaks more towards a peaceful wisdom. He’s the peacemaker, the one that both Silvio and Natwick like and seek out, and it’s easy for the audience to see why. When he does get riled up, it’s not to the level of Silvio’s outbursts, it’s modulated perfectly to match the character we have come to know. Natwick is played by Nathan Christopher who tells you everything you need to know about the characters background just in the style of his speech. He perfectly captures that east coast uppercrust Ivy league man, who one senses may have enlisted in order to avoid his fears of not living up to the expectations that come with that background. Christopher plays him in a way that shows us the surface superiority so we understand Silvio’s dislike, but he also shows us the insecurities and fears which help us understand why Gately doesn’t judge him the same way. My friend Ryan Newton Harris plays Silvio. It was my favorite performance of three very good performances. It’s not because he’s my friend but because he has the juiciest role. He’s completely believable as this character who’s messed up but that’s not who Harris is in real life. I don’t have the benefit of comparing the actors to their characters in the other two cases, I’m sure they are nothing like the characters they are playing either. The fact is that Harris has two advantages and he uses them to full effect. He does have the role that grabs your attention, he’s loud, he’s vulgar, he’s threatening. He plays all of that, but he doesn’t overplay it, he keeps it grounded in a reality that makes those outbursts all the more startling. If you go too big, it gets cartoonish, if you don’t go big enough, it falls flat. Harris finds that sweet spot and never leaves it. His timing, of not only his lines but his reactions, are also spot on. His second advantage is I know him, and I can tell you he doesn’t sound like that. From voice to body language he becomes a completely different person than the one I’ve known. That last one may be an unfair advantage, but who ever send life was fair?
The script calls for very little in the way of set design or lighting, which is good because the one thing you can’t call The Bryant Lake Bowl Theater is state of the art. This play doesn’t need anything but the smallest of props and furniture and some well planned lighting cues. The performers including Bevell, who is the Director of record along with Stage Manager Jeni Long, have really created a collaborative piece of theater art. Minimal as the costumes and props et al are they are exactly what you need for this show without anything being wasted. The one thing this show needs is actors who can pull it off, and this production has them! It’s as entertaining and thought provoking as you could want from an evening at the theater.
The remaining Performances are Friday and Saturday February 17th and 18th For more information about the show and to purchase tickets go to https://www.bryantlakebowl.com/theater/pvt-wars.
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