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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

A Piece of My Heart

Also see Susan's review of Eclipsed

A Piece of My Heart
Cast of A Piece of My Heart
Most histories of the Vietnam War say little about the women who served as nurses, Red Cross workers, and entertainers. With its solid production of Shirley Lauro's earnest 1991 play A Piece of My Heart, American Century Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, is seeking to right that injustice by sharing the women's stories.

Lauro took her inspiration from an oral history compiled by Keith Walker, which covers the stories of 26 women who served in Vietnam. The play concentrates on six archetypal characters: a self-described military brat (Christine Hirrel) who wants to be an Army nurse like her mother; a wide-eyed singer (Melissa W. Bailey) who gets booked as an entertainer at military camps; a small-town girl (Robin Covington) who sees military service as a way to break out; a wealthy young woman (Anne Veal) who horrifies her parents by applying for Red Cross work in the war zone; a half-Chinese, half-Italian nurse from New York City (Momo Nakamura) who thinks she's going to serve in a rehabilitation hospital in Hawaii; and an African-American career officer (Jeri Marshall) who takes an overseas posting to improve her professional standing.

The stories begin before deployment, follow the six women through their tours of duty, then show how the women attempt to find where they belong once they come home. Lauro has created a mosaic of moments: an inexperienced nursing supervisor thrown into a mass casualty situation; an analyst whose report is ignored because she's a woman and not high enough on the chain of command; the woman who needs to "build a psychological wall" so the stresses of the job don't destroy her; and the momentary joys of drinking, smoking pot and attending a Bob Hope Christmas show. The postwar experiences echo the better-known problems of male veterans, including post-traumatic stress disorder and lingering illness from exposure to Agent Orange.

Director Jason M. Beagle has a sensitive, sympathetic way with the material, and the women—joined by Greg Gallagher as all the American men in their Vietnam experience—shift fluidly in and out of character as they tell their own and each other's stories. Marshall, tall and imposing, and Nakamura, portraying an Asian-American unsure of herself in an Asian country, give the most moving performances; Veal sometimes seems overly mannered as a woman who tries to set limits that don't always hold up.

Hannah J. Crowell's scenic design makes maximum use of minimal components (benches, storage crates), but Brian S. Allard's lighting design and, especially, Tim Morse's dead-on sound design do more to create the reality facing the women.

American Century Theatre
A Piece of My Heart
September 11th October 10th
By Shirley Lauro, suggested by the book by Keith Walker
Martha: Christine Hirrel
Mary Jo: Melissa W. Bailey
Sissy: Robin Covington
Whitney: Anne Veal
LeeAnn: Momo Nakamura
Steele: Jeri Marshall
All the American men: Greg Gallagher
Directed by Jason M. Beagle
Gunston Theatre II, 2700 S. Lang St.
Arlington, VA 22206
Ticket Information: 703-553-8782 or www.americancentury.org


Photo: Sheila Price


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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