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BWW Review: A PIECE OF MY HEART at Union Avenue Christian Church

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Blood and raw emotion propels the West End Players Guild's latest production.

BWW Review: A PIECE OF MY HEART at Union Avenue Christian Church

The West End Player's Guild 110th season continues with a powerful presentation of Shirley Lauro's A Piece of My Heart. Set during the Vietnam War and told from the perspective of six women, whose search for something greater leads them to the frontlines, and the emotional trauma of returning home.

Filled with pathos and weighty drama, A Piece of My Heart, is a gritty, and oftentimes uncomfortable portrayal of what the over 11,000 women stationed in Vietnam dealt with as they nursed, comforted, and entertained troops.

Acting as a microcosm for the thousands of women who served, A Piece of My Heart chronicles the lives of six of these women, each of whom signed up seeking adventure or to serve their country only to discover they've landed in a nightmare.

The girls come from a wide range of backgrounds. MaryJo is a singer with the Sugar Candies All Girl Band whose dubious agent booked her a gig entertaining troops. Sissy is a girl next door from Eerie, Pennsylvania looking to find herself. Martha is an army brat looking to follow in the footsteps of her mother, a nurse in World War Two. '

Also discovering that Vietnam is not the posting they expected are Steele, an African-American intelligence officer looking for an opportunity to advance her career, and Whitney, a bright college graduate hoping to find her calling. the most ironic member of the group is LeAnn, a half-Chinese, half-Italian anti-war hippie who mistakenly thinks she will be serving in Hawaii, only to find herself in the firepit of Southeast Asia.

Throughout both tension-packed acts, the production features these six brave women standing on their own. Upon arrival in Vietnam, they immediately face life in a combat zone. Unprepared for stifling heat and the barrage of triage work, the women quickly learn that the war in Vietnam is nasty business. Unaccustomed to seeing dead bodies, wounded amputees, and battle-weary soldiers, they each undergo a personal transformation as they adapt and survive.

Undertrained, unappreciated, and under fire, each woman fights for respect and survival. During their one-year post, they tend to the wounded, keep the troops' morale in high spirits, and for Steele, gather vital intelligence about the enemy.

Despite their achievements, the women face sexism, racism, and rape amidst the horrors of war. Undeterred, their strength and resolve are tested daily, especially during the Tet Offensive, as the hospitals become overrun with thousands of wounded men.

Finally, after enduring an agonizing twelve months, the women are relieved to be going home. However, their optimism is short-lived as they quickly become disillusioned. Enduring fractured relationships, the spite of the anti-war movement, workplace discrimination, and the long-term effects of agent orange exposure, their return to civilian life is just as difficult as their tour of duty. Frustrated, angry, and betrayed, the women use therapy as a means to heal from their collective experiences and reflect on the war they survived.

Onstage, this well-acted production features a collection of incredible actors, including Mara Bollini, Chelsie Johnston, Madison Jackson, Annalise Webb, Vicky Chen, Patience Davis, and Shane Signorino.

Taking on the role of every male character, Signorino dazzles as he juggles multiple parts, including soldiers, officers, and civilians. Davis is excellent as Steele, a woman whose tough

demeanor hides a simmering rage as she struggles to gain acceptance for her abilities. Newcomer Madison Jackson is excellent as the naïve Sissy, a woman whose experience in 'Nam results in sickness, pain, and a profound spiritual awakening. Giving the show a musical heartbeat is Chelsie Johnston whose MaryJo is weighted down from melancholy and lost innocence.

Exploring themes of hope, community, bravery, loss, PTSD, and emotional fatigue, A Piece of My Heart is bookended by the dedication of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., which brings their tragedies to a charged, full-circle conclusion.

Taking on the broken promises and fierce brutality of the Vietnam War, the compelling A Piece of My Heart is a superlative presentation. Director Dani Mann has staged a confrontational work that lingers with audiences long after leaving their seats.

A Piece of My Heart runs through December 19 at the theatre in the Union Avenue Christian Church. For tickets and more information, visit www.WestEndPlayers.org


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