Regional Reviews: St. Louis
A Piece of my Heart
Also see Richard's review of A Christmas Carol
Thanks to director Mann, our eyes go exactly where they should as we are drawn into the story of six young women. They come from all sorts of backgrounds, but each feels personally compelled to volunteer as a nurse in Indochina in the 1960s and 1970s, mostly through the Red Cross. In return, they live through many stories of servicemen's lives cruelly cut short, or nightmarish war injuries, which the ill-prepared nurses must treat. And there are plenty of stories of violence and romance in their own lives, which they must navigate with fumbling honesty and as much lonely perseverance as they can muster.
It's a cleansing experience for the audience, and you're guaranteed to be counting your blessings after this show, humbled by the nurses' sacrifice. Patience Davis is relentless and later nearly broken, as both a nurse and an intelligence officer. Annalise Webb shows highly admirable nuance and development as Whitney, the rich girl. As Leann, Vicky Chen is driven (as are most of the nurses) to some degree of madness by the culture shock of suddenly being on the frontlines of war, and then coming home to antiwar protests. And Madison Jackson is haunting as a young mother who brought Agent Orange symptoms back with her, and passed them on to her daughter, after her service.
Chelsie Johnston plays the beautiful folk-rock singer who performs for the troops, and draws in the nurses as backup singers or dancers a couple of times, to wonderful effect, with choreography by Amy Learn. Shane Signorino plays a dizzying array of American servicemen, frightened or gruffincluding a giddy number of spins and twists and evasions as a series of intelligence officers in one scene, giving Patience Davis the runaround before the infamous Tet Offensive of 1968, which she has foreseen and tries to warn about.
It's strangely refreshing to see a non-Christmas show like this in the middle of December. Regular drama has been losing the war on Christmas shows for the past several years in these parts. And this one totally fulfills West End Players Guild's promise of "big theatre in a small space." All the tech people give it their absolute best, with a cumulative effect that's overwhelming, triggering a kind of psychic rebirth in those of us who were too young to go over there at the time. And, really, the best Christmas presents are the ones you can use all yearin this case, for humility, empathy and grit. A Piece of My Heart earns all its warnings about PTSD and ethnic slurs, but that only makes it more real.
West End Players Guild's A Piece of My Heart runs through December 19, 2021, at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union Boulevard, St. Louis MO. Masks are required. There's a lighted parking lot behind the church. For tickets and information visit www.WestEndPlayers.org.