Pvt. Wars

by James McLure

Pvt. (‘Private’) Wars is about Vietnam veterans trying to recuperate in an Army veterans’ hospital in the 1970s. It is an extremely funny one act comedy for three young (fighting age) men, with strong compassionate undertones and great poignancy. It does not dwell on the war in Vietnam itself, but on the small talk that conceals the inner turmoil of the patients. The GIs while away their time on the terrace of the hospital, and as the lights flick on and off for each short scene, we capture glimpses of their mundane activities and conversations. It is both compassionate and very funny whilst remaining uncompromisingly honest; it’s full of the GIs’ sexual banter and frustration, and shines a light on what war does to people both physically and mentally.

Comprising a series of brief scenes, the play creates a meaningful mosaic as the three men tease, torment, entertain, exasperate and, on occasion, console each other maintaining throughout a hilarity which belies their deep concern about the uncertainties of the civilian world to which they will soon be returning. Gately fiddles compulsively with a disemboweled radio; Silvio is addicted to flashing the nurses (even though he no longer has the necessary equipment); while Natwick, a prissy rich kid from Long Island, writes letters to his mother telling her how much he wants to become a close friend of Gately while failing to mention how much Silvio hates him. On the outside world, they wouldn’t have been friends, but circumstance has bought them together and their friendship is marked by satire, pranks, violence and a desire to get better rather than die or rot in hospital. Pvt. Wars is about fighting your own wars rather than interfering in others’. Slow in pace, this short play gives an insight into the state of mind of soldiers following every war, not just Vietnam.

The Setting: On the terrace outside a veterans’ hospital somewhere in the United States. Fine, sunny weather and simple furnishings with a table (covered in radio parts) and a few chairs. The final scene is an illicit late night party with booze, silly hats, and starlight.

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Woodruff Gately - Josh Smith

The most personable character, Gately is from the American South, and very slow of thought and deed. His frustrating attempts to fix a radio piece by piece are a physical task that also plays an important part in his mental psyche: ‘If a guy like me can make a radio work than the whole of America will work.’ Setting about this task helps restore Gately’s own mind as each screw, nut and bolt restored to the radio makes him believe he’s one step closer to helping America too. But his colleagues don’t lend themselves to helping him; each pockets essential parts making it nearly impossible for Gately to accomplish his task. An idiot savant, he seems desperately naïve, but quotes and later chants ''Hiawatha'' and acts as a peacemaker/middle man for the other two.

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Silvio - Maxfield Usher

For Silvio, who passes the time in hospital pulling hysterical and destructive pranks, things couldn't get worse. An Italian-American Catholic predator prowling the wards flashing the nurses, he is arrogant, cocky and loves to torment Natwick in particular. But we see his vulnerable side as he relates to Gately his concerns about floppy underwear and the benefits of wearing a kilt for achieving a better sperm count. While bravado and bragging define his character, we later learn shrapnel blew his private parts off so in fact he’s all talk and no action. His macho posturings and periodic displays of violence are cover-ups for the war-inflicted wounds that emasculate him. Will he/can he ever leave?

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Natwick - Troy Chessman

Natwick is the thinker of the trio; possibly gay, the prim product of a privileged life in Great Neck, Long Island, he’s intelligent and sensitive, and sometimes heard reciting poetry. While his family had high hopes for his career, he feels a failure in hospital and (sort of) attempts suicide since ‘when you’re rich you only have one way to go; down’. Despite his wealth and intelligence, in hospital with the other men he’s reduced to being their equal and he’s seen as an ‘asshole’. His knowledge of TS Eliot may have been applauded back home, but here, it’s laughed at.


Director and Sound - Mark Humble


Set Design and Construction - John Godliman


Stage Manager - Clare Pinnock


Lighting - Simon Waller


Sound - Ian Santry

The Richard Davis Trophy for Best Play Elmbridge Drama Festival - 2017
Edward G Hubbard Trophy for Best Actor Josh Smith Elmbridge Drama Festival - 2017
Molly Jack Trophy for Best Youth Actor or Actress Maxfield Usher Elmbridge Drama Festival - 2017