Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Private Jones
Signature Theatre
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Alex De Bard, Johnny Link, Amelia Hensley,
Leanne Antonio, George Psomas,
and Dickie Drew Hearts

Photo by Daniel Rader
Once again, Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, is taking a risk that delivers a powerful reward. The musical Private Jones examines issues of community and responsibility through the character of a deaf sniper in World War I, told using three distinct methods of communication: English, spoken and in projected titles; British Sign Language, how Gomer Jones (Johnny Link) learns to communicate; and American Sign Language for the audience, presented by Amelia Hensley as the Storyteller.

Marshall Pailet wrote the book, music, and lyrics and, in addition, directs this production with a clear and deeply emotional vision. The program notes explain that few facts are known about this actual historical figure; Pailet places Jones in the midst of a situation that would grind down any participant, even without difficulties in communication. (At times, as a way to streamline the action, Jones does speak to those around him and respond to their answers.)

As imagined by Pailet, Jones grew up on a farm in south Wales, learning to shoot by killing the wild dogs attacking his family's sheep. His ability to focus on a single target, then hit it, develops from his interior stillness and his memories of sound. After the army at first refuses to take him because of his deafness, Jones learns to cope through a friendship with Gwenolyn (Leanne Antonio), a nurse whose brother is deaf and working in a munitions plant.

Link vividly conveys Jones' inner life through his shifting facial expressions and posture, clearly depicting his frustration and conflicting emotions. He intends to be the best at what he can do, but (like every other soldier) he also has to adapt to circumstances he can't control, including some that challenge his personal ethical code.

The 12 actors form a tight ensemble, with standouts including the sparkling Erin Weaver as King, a more seasoned soldier who befriends Jones; Jake Loewenthal as a friend from home; and Vincent Michael as his adversary in the ranks. The company includes several actors who play multiple roles, shifting among races and sexes. As individuals and as a unit, they excel in Misha Shields' muscular choreography.

Christopher and Justin Swader have created a modular scenic design that allows fluid shifts among the settings, from the open fields of home to the claustrophobic trenches and barracks, while Jen Schriever's lighting design and Eric Norris' sound design engulf the audience. Special mention should go to puppet designer Nicholas Mahon for his creation of a specific animal Jones encounters.

Music director and keyboardist Myrna Conn shows a powerful control of her five musicians from their location above and at the rear of the acting area.

Private Jones runs through March 10, 2024, at Signature Theatre's MAX Theater, 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington VA. For tickets and information, please call 703-820-9771 or 1-800-955-5566 or visit

Written and directed by Marshall Pailet
Choreographed by Misha Shields
Music direction by Myra Conn
Director of Artistic Sign Language: Alexandria Wailes

Cast: Gwenolyn/Evans: Leanne Antonio
Bailey: Deimoni Brewington
Father/Drill Sergeant/Major: David Aron Damane
Ensemble: Alex De Bard
Henry: Dickie Drew Hearts
The Storyteller: Amelia Hensley
Gomer Jones: Johnny Link
Redvers: Jake Loewenthal
Edmund: Vincent Michael
Ensemble: George Psomas
Ensemble: Emily Steinhardt
King: Erin Weaver