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Theater Reviews : ‘Pvt. Wars’ Defends Laughter as the Best Medicine

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

James McLure’s “Pvt. Wars” is one of those plays that young actors love to get their teeth into. It’s about three veterans careening around a VA hospital, finding their own special bonding in an effort to save what’s left of their sanity, which they do with a magnificent sense of humor and a touching understanding of each other’s malfunctions.

It also is that rare anti-war play that accomplishes its magic without mentioning war. It’s a fable about the leftovers of war, a funny and sad picture of what greedy industry does to the innocents who fight its battles.

Todd Kulczyk has directed this production at the Irvine Community Theatre with an incisive emotional through-line: Ignoring the play’s lack of plot, he concentrates on the fascinating mosaic McLure has created out of the mental and emotional games his characters play with themselves and with each other to maintain some sort of control over their healing.

The three actors obviously enjoy their assignments and give the action some quirky flights of fancy that make the play work.

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Jon Dolton’s Gately is a by-the-book performance, making its points clearly and with a sense of the character’s distraction. But Dolton hasn’t always found the dreamlike quality in Gately, the gentle tunnel vision that keeps him repairing a radio whose parts keep disappearing.

This Gately is too frenetic, an approach that keeps his most touching scene--a description of a visit from his fiancee, whom he doesn’t recognize--from being as heartbreaking as it could be.

Michael Hebler’s Silvio is a whirling dervish of a performance. It’s inventive, and Hebler doesn’t make the mistake of telegraphing Silvio’s injury. That injury is part of the past, and Silvio lives in the minute: volatile, joking, psychotic.

*

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Equally original is Timothy Titus’ Natwick, a mother’s boy preppie from Long Island, uptight but with a humor that is his salvation. Titus doesn’t play the role in the usual effete manner. There is a puckish masculinity about this Natwick that couldn’t be more revealing of the character’s attitudes.

Kulczyk’s use of energetic tempos is just right; it doesn’t interfere with his edge of empathy throughout, or with his ability to put on the brakes when McLure’s dialogue requires them. With humor and stylization, “Pvt. Wars” makes a statement about survival that is wise and affirmative.

* “Pvt. Wars,” Irvine Community Theatre, Turtle Rock Park, Irvine. Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sunday, Aug. 14, 2 p.m. Ends Aug. 20. $8. (714) 857-5496. Running time: 1 hours, 40 minutes. Jon Dolton: Gately

Michael Hebler: Silvio

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Timothy Titus: Natwick

An Irvine Community Theatre production of James McLure’s comedy-drama, directed by Todd Kulczyk. Lighting design/stage manager: Richard Valente. Sound design: Trish Lee.


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