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Little Theatre Of Norfolk Pays Tribute To Women's History In A PIECE OF MY HEART

Little Theatre Of Norfolk Pays Tribute To Women's History In A PIECE OF MY HEART

Little Theatre of Norfolk embraces feminism, Women's History Month, and tackles the tragedies of war with their upcoming production of A Piece of My Heart.

Since the time of Greek tragedies, plays have been a way for people to make sense of the horrors of war. Even Shakespeare incorporated elements of war to help audiences understand the struggles soldiers faced. Today is no different. Theater offers a vehicle for the community to get a glimpse of the tragedies of war and bring it to the forefront of our minds.

In A Piece of My Heart, the adversities of war; specifically, the Vietnam War, are told by six women, as they guide us through their lives before, during, and after Vietnam. The play centers around the physical and emotional hardships the women endured during wartime in the 1950s, '60s, and '70s.

Director Kelly Gilliam is former Navy herself, which brings her closer to the piece. "I understand a lot of the things that these women went through. I was never in a war zone, but the traumas that entail being in the military as a woman, even in the '90s, it wasn't that different as far as the patriarchy," she said.

Although the play is set more than 30 years ago, the themes can resonate with a modern-day audience. "You can really see a part of yourself in the different characters," said assistant director Kathryn Finney. "As a woman, how do we look at these experiences that happened in the Vietnam War, which was a very long time ago? How do you process what was expected of you then as opposed to now? It's a very different thing for a modern woman, but the feminist attitude is an undercurrent of our modern life."

"Somebody who is younger, who has never known a world where war was front and center, may see it differently than someone who was post 9/11 or Vietnam," said Gilliam. "I would want someone who is young to come away with what it was like to be a woman in a time where women were not empowered, and to understand that today, [being a veteran] is almost a glorified position, where people who came back from Vietnam were vilified instead. So there's a definite juxtaposition of how things were 20 or 30 years ago as they are today."

The production is all about women and female empowerment, which is fitting, as it runs during March, which is Women's History Month. "This show is really about the women. The men are just there because there were men in Vietnam," said Peter Scheible, who plays all the men in the show. "It focuses on the women. That's the main difference. And it's not just any particular kind of woman. It's a variety of women. They all have their different struggles and problems that they faced in Vietnam. The men, of course, had their problems, too, but we've all already seen those problems. Being able to see what the women's struggles were as well, I think is important."

A Piece of My Heart simply celebrates female empowerment, although not in a traditional way. Peyton Henderson plays Steele, a black woman who has been in the military longer than the other characters. "[Steele] gives a perspective that is not usually considered. That of not just a woman, but a black woman, so it adds this almost intersectionality," she said. "Every time I hear this play I think, wow. We as women are just awesome and underappreciated. There are moments they touch on that in the play, where these women are seeing such horrific things, but they're not given the recognition or the respect that they deserve. I think this play pays homage to them, and gives them the space and time. Women have hurt, too. It's time that it is recognized."

Corenn Holmes, who plays Leeann, one of the nurses in the show, said that she hopes the play sheds light on just how much women can really do. "Women can do these amazing things, and that PTSD is normal, and people do need help," she said. "I think that it shows not only the tragedies, but that we become family through all that we go through."

"I know a lot of people are scared that war is ever impending, and afraid that the draft is going to come back," said Moriah Joy, who plays Sissy, the youngest member of the group of six women. "I think if people look at this show and see how far we've come, but how we still have much further to go, they will realize that we should be able to find some other way to solve those conflicts. It's an impactful story and it's still extremely relevant."

With Little Theatre of Norfolk existing in a military-based community, many people can find a connection with A Piece of My Heart. The play depicts The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where the names of more than 58,000 men and women who gave their lives in the war are engraved. During the run of the production, Little Theatre of Norfolk will show recognition and appreciation of military women in the community on their own Wall of Honor.

"It's a very empowering piece," said Sami Topping, who plays Martha, a military brat who serves as a nurse in the Vietnam War. "It really just makes you proud to be an American and proud to be a woman. I think everyone can take something from it. It's not a piece specifically for women; it's not a piece specifically for military people; it's a piece for everyone who's had to overcome hardship, and I think it will really resonate with everyone regardless."

Little Theatre of Norfolk's production of A Piece of My Heart by Shirley Lauro runs March 6 - March 29. Showtimes are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2:30pm. Tickets are available at ltnonline.org. There is special ticket pricing for military, seniors, students, and youth. Parking is free. The theatre is located at 801 Claremont Avenue, in the Chelsea neighborhood of Norfolk. Little Theatre of Norfolk is a volunteer-led, non-profit community theatre, continually operating since 1926.



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