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PVT. WARS, TinFish Theatre. A volatile mix of vaudeville, sitcom, and unprocessed pain, James McLure's offbeat comedy contrasts three Vietnam vets dodging inner and outer traumas in the dayroom of a VA mental hospital. Gately, a shell-shocked southerner lost in his own insignificance, obsessively repairs a radio (to prove that America still works). Silvio is a Bronx punk who compensates for his damaged genitals with macho posturing. He finds a perfect victim in Natwick, a prissy, suicidal, rich closet case from Long Island. Loosely classified as depressive, psychotic, and paranoid respectively, they set each other off over and over. Yet, as McLure's pungent scenes reveal, they suit one another better than they do the world. No one really wants to flee this cuckoo's nest.

This two-act includes ten scenes not in the one-act version, including an oddly successful night out for the two straight patients and monologues in which all three say what they can't share with one another. These scenes open up a script that might otherwise succumb to the characters' quirks. And fortunately Laurie Kladis's staging never defines the characters by their extremes, as happened in Oil Can Theatre's 1995 staging. But all the performances--Marc Collins's laid-back Gately, Dejan Avramovich's earthy Silvio, and Matt Hahn's fussily evasive Natwick--remain too much on the surface. These guys could have been institutionalized for anything. Even if post-traumatic stress disorder is not part of the script, there should be an edge to the play's manic humor that's MIA here. Vietnam is not a pretext; it's the subtext. --Lawrence Bommer

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