Angels of mercy view the horrors of war in Theatre in the Square's A Piece of My Heart. Shirley Lauro's powerful play captures the Vietnam War through the eyes of women who served in-country, then faced its fallout on the home front.
Literally countless numbers of military women served in Nam (the Pentagon did not keep an exact record, according to Lauro), but the play follows six: three nurses, a Red Cross volunteer, an intelligence specialist and a girl-group singer hired to entertain the troops. A Piece of My Heart primarily emphasizes the nurses' experiences, beginning with the military's false assurance when they sign up that "nurses can only volunteer for Vietnam."
The play's first act provides an engrossing collage of wartime episodes, from treating grotesquely wounded casualties to bouts of alcoholism to after-hours affairs with doomed men in uniform (Cary Donaldson plays all of the male characters). No matter how many "MASH" episodes you've seen, A Piece of My Heart captures the terror of wartime surgery, while the play's sound design brings out the sudden, shocking blasts of mortars and mines.
A Piece of My Heart recounts fascinating episodes that go beyond the costs of combat. Shontelle Thrash's intelligence specialist predicts the Tet Offensive, but her report goes ignored, possibly because she's an enlisted black woman and not a white male officer. Widdi Turner plays a New York nurse of Italian-Chinese descent, as well as a number of Vietnamese characters, some of whom turn from sympathetic servants to sinister enemies. Bethany Irby's singer reveals that soldiers treat nurses with the respect of comrades-in-arms, but entertainers are sex objects vulnerable to rape.
Act Two deals with the women's homecoming and struggles in civilian life. One mother (Cheri Christian) tries to prove her daughter suffers from Agent Orange contact, despite the government's Orwellian denial that it even exists. Action surrounding group therapy sessions and the dedication of the Vietnam Memorial emphasize grief and healing, which proves less interesting dramatically. Despite being a period piece, A Piece of My Heart feels surprisingly contemporary, particularly when U.S. officials mislead its volunteers, brush aside advance warnings of attacks and deny responsibility for their actions. Some things never go out of style.
A Piece of My Heart runs through Sept. 25 at Theatre in the Square, 11 Whitlock Ave., Marietta. Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 and 7 p.m. $18-$33. 770-422-8369. www.theatreinthesquare.com.
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I absolutely loved this play. It was hilarious throughout, and I especially liked seeing the…