Recently I was asked to participate in a production of “A Piece of My Heart”. I had other plans and ideas, other productions I wanted to audition for: but once I knew more of the story and the characters I realized that this was one of those stage productions that I would ultimately regret turning down.
The true stories of six courageous women sent to Vietnam and their struggle to make sense of a war that irrevocably changed them and a nation that shunned them. A work with the music and soul of a tumultuous era in our history.
This is a powerful, true drama of six women who went to Vietnam: five nurses and a country western singer booked by an unscrupulous agent to entertain the troops. The play portrays each young woman before, during, and after her tour in the war-torn nation and ends as each leaves a personal token at the memorial wall in Washington.
Before I go on… typically I would not talk about any productions that I have been a part of because by that time I would have a very biased view of the production that I would be able to give a reasonable objective view. However, after the first read through and the first rehearsal I felt that it is necessary to write my thoughts and feelings down about this production else it might overwhelm me… it is that deep and thought provoking… right up my alley.
So for the sake of keeping this as objective as possible I will not mention the remainder of the cast, production team or where this production is going to take place… if you are interested in knowing more about this production you could message me directly from my personal Facebook Page or send me a tweet and I will provide the information. But for the purposes of this blog post I just won’t place any bias on this script and story.
Below are the character descriptions of the six primary female roles that the audience will see through the production:
THE COUNTRY SINGER
MARYJO: 17-37. Blond, pretty, outgoing, bubbly personality. Texas accent. Sexy; a funny comedienne quality; but sad inside. Must be skillful guitarist and singer.
MARTHA: 22-42. Strong, self-composed, aura of self-discipline, military bearing. Strong face, American, almost pioneer in feeling.
SISSY: 20-40. Sweet feminine, outgoing. Sense of fun. Also sense of harmoney and warmth to personality.
LEEANN: 20-40. Asian or Amerasian. Attractive. Strong, tough, determined in nature. An urban, hip quality to her personality.
THE RED CROSS
WHITNEY: 21-41. Tall, slender, withdrawn, contained. Very aristocratic in bearing and quality. A Vassar graduate.
STEELE: 35-55. Black. Extremely strong, military bearing. Very intelligent, outgoing, greate sense of humor. A pragmatist. Southern.
The six women include four women who were nurses in the war, another woman working in intelligence and a country western singer who went on board to entertain the troops in Vietnam with a little bit of home. The play itself begins at around the time the Vietnam War Memorial was erected in Washington DC and we see these six women standing around it. Then, one by one each woman tells a little bit of their backstory and what ultimately persuaded them to become a part of the Vietnam War.
The first act then goes back approximately twenty years where we follow each of the women as they re-enact memories that led them to sign up for the war, going through training, and being on the plane that ultimately lands them on foreign soil. Then finally for the remainder of the act recounts their experiences as they are thrown into a war that they very quickly realize they knew absolutely nothing about.
Throughout the first act the women go through trials personally, professionally, emotionally and mentally. Six different points of view all from six different walks of life, traveling through six very different routes that all happen to parallel and intersect at a variety of points and interludes. At the end of the first act the women eventually disentangle themselves from the cold cruel world of war and find themselves excited if not hesitant at what home would have waiting for them.
The second act starts soon after the women land on U.S. soil: the demonstrations, the screaming, the media, the suffering. Eventually the women and the audience starts to realize that the war would never be over for them no matter how long they stay on U.S. soil. These women suffered on a vast variety of levels and plateaus, from depression to screaming out in rage and frustration. From denying participation of the war to fighting all out to make things better for other women who were and are suffering like them.
Towards the end of the second act everything comes full circle with the six characters back at the Vietnam War Memorial Wall much like at the beginning of the play, only this time as opposed to the flashbacks and memories we see what happened to them a little bit after being at the wall.
To say that this is an actor’s play is an understatement. Whomever are lucky enough to be a part of this production will be pushed, prodded, pulled and tampered with in a vast number of directions. No stereotypes are allowed here.
When searching for reading materials for character research I came across a book also called “A Piece of My Heart” written / edited by Keith Walker. Considering I have yet to read this book myself set (still trying to build up the courage) there is another blogger online that have read this book and provided their thoughts on the book. Below is a snippet:
About 15,000 American women served in Vietnam. Journalist and film-maker Keith Walker interviewed 15 nurses (14 army, 1 Navy) and the remaining 11 represented organizations such as the Red Cross and the USO. Walker provides introductions to the monologues. Though only a paragraph long, expressive details include one interviewee who covered her eyes with her arm during her entire talk. Walker uses ellipses to show hesitations and silences and indicate distress.
The extended monologues give an idea of the shared experience many veterans, male and female. In common with memoirs by men, the women have a range of political opinions and responses to the war. Many see their experiences in a positive light and reject casting themselves as victims. They also shared the tension of never knowing where the enemy was (except everywhere) and being under imminent attack. Like troops in the field, the nurses underwent repeated exposure to the injury, disability, disfigurement, and death of men who were terribly young. One nurse wanted to ask her mother to “check around and see if she could find one whole eighteen-year-old.” Women recount feeling fear, boredom, callousness, and the gradual loss of the ability to feel that prolonged stress may cause. Readers who’ve studied more than a few memoirs of Vietnam veterans will be struck at the common themes.
At the end of the day, this is a piece worth being a part of and one that anyone should watch and experience. Especially when it comes to reliving this dark piece of American history. I will be the first to admit that this is going to be a difficult piece for those that are close to the war to sit through, but I never said that recounting the experiences of those that have gone through the war would be easy.