Private Jones – Review by Bonnie Goldberg

Veteran’s Day is a deeply moving time to thank the selfless men and women who sacrifice so much, often life and limb, to protect us and our many freedoms. How fitting, therefore, to see the touching and emotional new musical “Private Jones” that just debuted at the Terris Theatre in Chester to great applause at this moment. We are all too aware of wars and conflict, the enormous toll they take on families and communities, and the disastrous truth that we do not learn from our mistakes and are destined to repeat them again and again throughout the ages.

“Private Jones” is a new musical written and directed by Marshall Pailet with Alexandria Wailes, Director of Artistic Sign Language. Come meet Johnny Link as Gomer Jones, a young and eager lad from Wales who wants desperately to help defend England in World War I. At his father’s knee he learned to shoot a rifle, even though it pained him to kill the feral dogs that ate the family’s livelihood of sheep.

When Gomer loses his hearing, he lies about his age and tries to enlist. Passing the physical without benefit of his ears is impossible the first time, but he is not easily discouraged. Once he succeeds, he is determined to be an excellent sniper as the rousing tune “Bastards” joyously illustrates. Training with his new comrades, he is able to hide his disability at first but ultimately Leanne Antonio’s Gwenolyn, a helpful nurse, and a fellow soldier, Claire Neumann’s King, discover his secret and work to protect him. Ultimately he is betrayed by Vincent Kempski’s Edmund from his home town and Gomer is slated to be disgraced and dismissed.

The realities of war and the cruelty of the fighting are portrayed with elaborate choreography by Misha Shields and dramatic musical direction by Myrna Cohn, with both American and British Sign Language sprinkled liberally within the action. Illusions to Gomer’s beloved home of Breconshire in Wales punctuate his conflicts, while Nicholas Mahon’s sweet dog puppet touches the heart.

“Private Jones” is moving in February 2024 to the Signature Theater in Virginia from theTerris. Watch how Gomer Jones takes all his years of practice with a rifle on the farm with his dad and transforms himself into a “bastard killer” against the Krauts, with honor and courage against all odds. His journey is well worth acknowledging as this “deaf as a dormouse” soldier defends all that is dear to him.