By Thom deMartino
It’s said it was the war that caused the country to lose it’s collective mind: where the American Dream was put to the test, and found painfully lacking. Soldiers went into battle thinking it was for freedom and a righteous cause, that their nation would be there for them when they rotated back to “the world:” instead, they returned home disillusioned, betrayed — strangers in their own country. No one could comprehend the horrors they’d seen without having been there.
“A Piece of My Heart,” directed by Martie Ramm and now playing at Golden West College’s Mainstage Theater, takes an unflinching and powerful look at the tragedies of Vietnam War through the eyes of six women who were stationed there, in different capacities: three enlisted nurses, one Red Cross nurse, a military intelligence officer, and the lead singer of a band touring the bases and entertaining the boys “in country.”
Each woman has her own set of challenges and strengths: vocalist Maryjo (Nicole Kelder) wants to make a name for herself and her band, never suspecting what the experience will truly cost her; Whitney (Renee Curtis) comes from a wealthy background but chooses to serve in the Red Cross, not realizing the rigorous standards they impose just to protect their image; Steele (Lydia McDonald) serves as a military intelligence analyst — but, being both an African-American and a woman, is frequently dismissed and ignored, despite her skills. Meanwhile, Martha (Katherine Heflin,) is an Army brat following in her family’s tradition, serving as a nurse alongside Sissy (Catherine Yount), a sheltered Pennsylvania girl and Leeann (Zia Wynn) who, being of Italian/Chinese descent, has the special challenge of contending with bias against her by her own countrymen in the Asian-populated country.
But the tragedies and tribulations the women endure are not limited to foreign climes: returning to the States, they contend with undiagnosed and unidentified illnesses, post-traumatic stress disorder, and a nation that professes its appreciation for their service — yet ignores or resents them, even mires them in red tape. Each one must find her own path, her own way to come to terms with what she has witnessed or done, her own way to make peace with the past.
The nearly two-hour show flies by, as the narration and rapid-fire dialogue of the various characters weave seamlessly into that of the others, never missing a beat — the audience doesn’t even have a moment to get bored, as each piece of experience from each individual adds to the complete picture: a fuller, unadulterated perception of a conflict that most people stateside could never conceive of. And where normally one or two performances could be singled out in a review, in this case it is impossible: every actor is remarkable in their portrayals, creating well-rounded and sympathetic characters whom the audience can’t help but empathize with, and feel that they truly come to know and understand.
Of special recognition should be Matthew Cobb, playing every single male in the production, with great variation, humor and pathos, accordingly — not a small feat.
Kudos must also be given to Tim Mueller’s set design, a multimedia tapestry of backdrop, lighting and projection: take note of the American flag background as it dissolves heavenward, a beautiful and subtle statement on the theme of the play.
“Unlike all the cast and crew members in this play, I was actually alive during America’s involvement in Vietnam,” explains director Ramm in the show’s program. “I remember seeing it played out live on the nightly news. I remember the sorrow and angst in the streets and the heated confusion that surrounded every political, social and psychological aspect of it.
“I had wanted to direct this play for many years…I am invigorated by the opportunity to explore how these characters felt as their distinctive paths brought them all to service in Vietnam, and how that path marked them for the rest of their lives.”
A remarkable performance that embeds the audience side by side with those who’ve seen too much in one of America’s most controversial and bloody conflicts, “A Piece of My Heart” is a powerful must-see in an already impressive theater season from Golden West College.
“A Piece of My Heart”, playing from Nov. 11- 20 at the Golden West College Mainstage Theater, 15751 Gothard St, Huntington Beach, CA 92647. Tickets available through the box office at 714-895-8150, x1 or at www.gwctheater.com. Some mature content and language.
Categories: Arts & Leisure