Theater review by Raven Snook
Like the hugely successful War Horse, Private Peaceful is set during World War I and based on a young-adult novel by British author Michael Morpurgo. The two shows even explore common themes: the innocence of childhood, the challenges of maturation, the hell of war. But the one-act, one-actor Private Peaceful is decidedly more modest in scope and staging. The young Irish actor Shane O’Regan’s tour-of-duty tour de force is the best reason to sign up for it.
Adapted by director Simon Reade, who has theatricalized a total of five Morpurgo books, Private Peaceful—which was mounted in New York 12 years ago in the Brits Off Broadway festival—focuses on a 17-year-old soldier awaiting execution for cowardice. (In reality, 306 British soldiers were sent to the firing squad on that same charge.) Private Thomas “Tommo” Peaceful’s heartbreakingly brief biography is episodic and heavy with symbolism. The first half of the play covers his working-class upbringing in the English countryside: his father’s untimely death, his bond with his older brother, his first crush. The second delves into the horrors of battle as Tommo and his brother trundle off to mainland Europe. (Reade’s adaptation effects a major change to the source material that makes this version especially gloomy.)
The story may sound familiar, but you’ve likely never seen O’Regan, who makes a spectacular U.S. debut. It’s exhilarating to watch him inhabit the tale’s two dozen characters, switching accents and attitudes like Sybil on steroids. Even more impressive than his versatility is his ability to tap into your imagination as well as your emotions. Assisted by Anshuman Bhatia’s excellent lighting and Jason Barnes’s evocative sound design, O’Regan effectively conjures the devastation of the Great War through his panicked and painful anecdotes. When his penetrating eyes flash with fear, you don’t need to see any blood to feel the extent of his wounds. He’s playing a private, but it’s a four-star performance.
TBG Theatre (Off Broadway). By Michael Morpurgo. Adapted and directed by Simon Reade. With Shane O’Regan. Running time: 1hr 20mins. No intermission.
|Venue name:||TBG Theatre||Contact:|
312 W 36th St
|Cross street:||between Eighth and Ninth Aves|
|Transport:||Subway: A, C, E to 34th St–Penn Station|