The Private Lives of Vietnam

The Private Lives of Vietnam

Bridget Sheppard

The Palace Theater production of the 1979 play Private Wars, by James McLure, examined three war veterans during their recovery in a hospital and, even though the men have emerged from the Vietnam War, their tales remind us of those of soldiers in our cur­rent wars. The performances on February 4 and 5 starred Wyatt Galusky as Natwick, Nick Preun­inger as Gately and Tio Schluter IV as Silvio; all three actors were recently in the Palace’s fall play Judevine together. Directed by Alessandro Trinca, the dark com­edy interspersed moments of light humor throughout the vet­erans’ conversations about their war experiences, inability to re­turn to the outside world and contemplation of suicide.

Throughout the play, Gately, who seems to suffer from am­nesia, attempts to repair a ra­dio, believing that once he ac­complishes this task he will be allowed to leave the hospital. Meanwhile, Silvio and Natwick continue to pilfer the parts from his radio to prevent him from finishing. Meanwhile, Silvio contends with an emasculating war wound that compels him to constantly as­sert his masculinity—often by exposing himself to the nurses—and Natwick considers suicide often. Despite their separate issues, the three veterans bond together, all knowing that they can leave the hospital whenever they wish, though none of them is ever quite ready to face the real world again.

With a minimalist set that emphasized the characters and their re­lationships with each other, Galusky, Preuninger and Schluter all con­veyed a blend of the troubled thoughts of the veterans and the jokes that helped them cope with life. The actors managed to portray the tension between their characters—as Silvio frequently targets Natwick with his practical jokes, such as gluing cups to his hand—but also dem­onstrated how the veterans, since they understood what the others had gone through, relied on one another and did not wish for the others to leave the hospital.

The play relates the stories of these veterans during their stay in the hospital through brief scenes and conversations, separated by blackouts. The audience senses how time seems to be one contin­uous line for these characters with nothing to anticipate beyond the weekly movies Natwick selects for the patients. The episodic nature of the work illustrates the lack of distinction between days or weeks for these men until Silvio finally has a date set for his departure.

As the veterans discuss the Vietnam War, the audience can draw parallels to the wars in the Middle East, especially as the top­ic of dissent is mentioned. Beyond the similar controversy surrounding the Vietnam and Iraq Wars though, the struggles that the soldiers and veterans of both wars battle display their likeness even more. The Palace recognized this connection, beginning the night with an introduction followed by a moment of silence for our soldiers—both those who fought in the past and those still fighting now. Private Wars reminds us that, past all of the politics of war, we must remember the men and women fighting.