Back to Stage

No coming home

A Piece of My Heart follows six women through the horrors of war

A Piece of My Heart may have its share of flaws, but the performances are uniformly solid. Photo credit: Jason Ganwich

Recommend Article
Total Recommendations (0)
Clip Article Email Article Print Article Share Article

Since seeing Dukesbay Theater's production of A Piece of My Heart, I've struggled with sorting my feelings about what, I would argue, is a play with its roots firmly entrenched in emotional manipulation. From a purely objective standpoint, an emotionally manipulative piece of art isn't fundamentally a bad thing, depending on its subject matter and how well it digs its claws into you. Some of my favorite artistic experiences have involved me acquiescing to being jerked around, even as I know that I'm playing the role of the sucker.

A Piece of My Heart covers the Vietnam War, one of the most rigorously documented events in history, although it approaches the subject from a point of view not typically highlighted: the women who served in the war as nurses, entertainers and military officials. Separated from the oft-depicted life of a soldier embedded in the jungle, A Piece of My Heart gets by largely on the fascination of exploring a facet of the war that we haven't seen countless times.

The cast is made up of six women (Melanie Gladstone, Jill Heinecke, LaNita Hudson, Helen Martin, Erin O'Loughlin and Kathryn Grace), with one man (Jermaine Lindsay) playing multiple roles as every man the women encounter. Each woman introduces herself, and the circumstances in which she finds herself in Vietnam, with motivations ranging from a misguided attempt to get stationed in Hawaii, to an Army brat trying to make her parents proud, to a nurse enlisting through Red Cross.

Gladstone, meanwhile, is performing in Vietnam as part of a USO tour. It's through this character that A Piece of My Heart first stumbles, with Gladstone strumming a guitar and singing snippets of songs so haltingly on the nose for the Vietnam War that it feels almost like parody.

The play's greatest strengths comes in its structure and its performances. Instead of following a linear path, A Piece of My Heart - based on a 1986 oral history of women in Vietnam - is made up of these women's fragmented memories delivered in interwoven monologues, with reenactments of key moments fleshing out the rest. Tasked with delivering dialogue that at times clangs with cliches, the actresses all acquit themselves very nicely. (Although, at times, there isn't much one can do to elevate the material. There's an inadvertent laugh line when one of the women, now back home, solemnly asks her doctor, "What is Agent Orange Disease?")

Because of A Piece of My Heart's fragmented structure, the play takes on a percussive feel, almost like beat poetry, that helps to liven a fairly straightforward polemic. Frantic blocking and vivid lighting cues give the impression of headlong momentum, and Dukesbay's modest theater space ensures that you are intimately close to the actors, which helps to embolden emotional beats that might otherwise ring hollow. A depiction of the Tet Offensive is appropriately harrowing.

This is far from a perfect play, and some may walk out of it feeling used, but there's a level of ambition at work, here, that can't be ignored. If nothing else, A Piece of My Heart makes me want to see more from these actors, and from Dukesbay Theater.

A PIECE OF MY HEART, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m., through Nov. 13, $15, Dukesbay Theater, 508 6th Ave., 253.350.7680,

Read next close


Voices of angels

comments powered by Disqus

Site Search