Pvt. Wars | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Oil Can Theatre, at Cafe Voltaire.

Fusing the flippancy about mental illness in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest with the antiwar vaudeville of Catch-22 and M*A*S*H, James McLure's often comical 75-minute one-act throws together three disabled Vietnam soldiers in a military hospital. They're very strange bedfellows, brought together only by the draft: simple Gately, a hillbilly intent on fixing a radio to prove that America can still work; volatile Silvio, an unregenerate lech and flasher, despite losing his privates to a shrapnel wound; and rich boy Natwick, a brittle but brainy paranoiac who sees suicide as a way to strike back at his success-conscious family.

In 20 deftly penned blackout scenes, McLure shows he can draw laughs from sheer character contrast. He also suggests the punning title's "private wars" through the obsessions that consume these restless soldiers. What mars W. Shane Oman's staging--the first work by Oil Can Theatre, a new troupe--is the assumption that McLure's jokes define these guys. Not so: the gallows humor comes out of the pain. It's hard to see these guys as soldiers, let alone imagine them sick.

Michael Wilkins exhibits wicked comic timing, Dan Wilkinson a hangdog hilarity, and J.P. Menou a prissy prickliness that's pure patrician. But they need to ground their GIs in the injuries they're trying to escape (though admittedly McLure offers few clues to the inner or outer wounds). Maybe a visit to a VA hospital would root this production in something besides two-liners.

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