The one-man show Private Peaceful recreates the hell of World War I | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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The one-man show Private Peaceful recreates the hell of World War I

From the same writer who brought you War Horse


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Adapted by Simon Reade from the YA novel by Michael Morpurgo, this solo show recounts the last hours in the life of a young British private in the First World War who is about to be executed for cowardice. Peaceful's crime: daring to think for himself. He'd wanted to carry his wounded brother to safety and tried to reason with a sadistic sergeant eager to send his men on a suicide mission against German machine gunners.

As in his better known YA novel War Horse, Morpurgo captures well in words the terrible world of trench warfare. Shane O'Regan, under the direction of Reade, brings the war to life. Performing on a mostly bare stage-the only prop is a small bed which, stripped of its mattress, doubles as the barbed wire in no man's land-O'Regan quickly proves himself to be an energetic chameleon of an actor, capable of creating Peaceful and all the people in his life-his brother, a Belgian barmaid, his mates in the army-with equal ease.

The last third of Reade's adaptation is riveting. Poor Peaceful endures gas attacks, foolish assaults, pathetic retreats, and nearly constant bombardment. The first half of this 80 minute show is slow going, though, as Morpurgo takes pains to describe in detail Peaceful's idyllic early life in a small village in Devon. These scenes are sweet, but would have taken on a greater poignancy if the audience was clued in earlier to the sheer hell Peaceful would face in the war.   v

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