The 110th season of the West End Player’s Guild continues with a powerful presentation from Shirley Lauro A piece of my heart. Set during the Vietnam War and told from the perspective of six women, whose search for something greater leads them to the front lines, and the emotional trauma of returning home.
Filled with pathos and heavy drama, A piece of my heart, is a crude and often uncomfortable portrayal of what the more than 11,000 women stationed in Vietnam dealt with as they cared for, comforted and entertained the troops.
Acting as a microcosm for the thousands of women who served, A piece of my heart chronicles the lives of six such women, each of whom has pledged to seek adventure or serve their country only to find they have landed in a nightmare.
The girls come from very diverse backgrounds. MaryJo is a singer from the Sugar Candies All Girl Band whose dodgy agent booked her a gig to entertain the troops. Sissy is a neighbor girl from Eerie, Pennsylvania who is looking to find herself. Martha is an army kid who seeks to follow in the footsteps of her mother, a nurse during World War II. ‘
Steele, an African-American intelligence officer looking for an opportunity to advance her career, and Whitney, a brilliant college graduate hoping to find her calling, also discover that Vietnam isn’t the job they’re in for. were waiting. the most ironic member of the group is LeAnn, a half-Chinese, half-Italian anti-war hippie who mistakenly thinks she’ll serve in Hawaii, only to end up in the Southeast Asian hotbed.
Throughout these two acts charged with tension, the production features these six courageous women who stand alone. Upon arriving in Vietnam, they are immediately confronted with life in a combat zone. Unprepared for the sweltering heat and the barrage of triage work, the women quickly learn that the war in Vietnam is bad business. Unaccustomed to seeing dead bodies, wounded amputees and battle-weary soldiers, they each undergo a personal transformation as they adapt and survive.
Under-trained, misunderstood and under fire, each woman fights for respect and survival. During their year-long post, they tend to the wounded, maintain troop morale and, for Steele, gather vital intelligence on the enemy.
Despite their achievements, women face sexism, racism and rape amid the horrors of war. Undeterred, their strength and resolve are tested daily, especially during the Tet Offensive, when hospitals are overrun with thousands of wounded.
Finally, after enduring twelve agonizing months, the women are relieved to return home. However, their optimism is short-lived as they quickly become disillusioned. Enduring fractured relationships, despite the anti-war movement, workplace discrimination and the long-lasting effects of exposure to Agent Orange, their return to civilian life is just as difficult as their time in service. Frustrated, angry and betrayed, women use therapy as a way to heal from their collective experiences and reflect on the war they survived.
On stage, this well-acted production features a collection of incredible actors, including Mara Bollini, Chelsie Johnston, Madison Jackson, Annalize Webb, Vicky Chen, Patience Davis and Shane Signorino.
Taking on the role of every male character, Signorino dazzles as he juggles multiple roles, including soldiers, officers, and civilians. Davis is excellent as Steele, a woman whose tough
her demeanor hides a seething rage as she struggles to gain acceptance for her abilities. Newcomer Madison Jackson is excellent as the naive Sissy, a woman whose experience in ‘Nam results in illness, pain, and a profound spiritual awakening. Chelsie Johnston gives the show a musical heartbeat that MaryJo is weighed down with melancholy and lost innocence.
Exploring themes of hope, community, bravery, loss, PTSD and emotional fatigue, A piece of my heart is completed with the dedication of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC, which brings their tragedies to a charged and complete conclusion.
Taking on the broken promises and ferocious brutality of the Vietnam War, the irresistible A piece of my heart is a superlative presentation. Director Dani Mann has crafted a confrontational work that lingers with audiences long after they leave their seat.
A piece of my heart through December 19 at the Union Avenue Christian Church Theater. For tickets and more information, visit www.WestEndPlayers.org