October 26, 2000

Good Morning Vietnam!

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Six women. Six distinct walks of life. Only six voices among 11,000.

Already in its second week, Shirley Lauro’s A Piece of My Heart will be playing in the Center for Theatre Arts until this Sunday. Directed by Stephen Cole, the play tells the passionate stories of six women’s experiences before, during, and after the war in Vietnam. All six characters are based on actual veterans depicted in Keith Walker’s book, A Piece of My Heart, the Stories of 26 American Women Who Served in Vietnam. Though for a decade the government had ignored their contributions as volunteer nurses, “donut dollies,” or entertainers, in 1992 the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Wall was erected to mark their achievement. Women’s support groups had been established, and the play was performed in celebration.

Even before a line was uttered last Friday night, the set instantly created a mood. Designed by Kent Goetz, it consisted of an American flag painted onto the floor, which extended to cover the theater’s walls, as well as an island of platforms that would serve as various settings. The gray flag design was both subdued and sobering against the Flexible Theatre’s black walls, despite the rowdy classic rock that welcomed the audience.

All six women’s stories could have been individual plays, as they incorporated a variety of themes. Race, discrimination, and of course, gender issues surrounded the role of Steele, played by Judith Annozine. A guest artist from New York City, Ms. Annozine’s extensive experience certainly showed. Steele’s surprisingly collected containment after expressing a brief bitterness mirrored her name; while Sissy, acted by Julia Macdonald ’03 (a Sun staff reporter), unfurled her confusion, and Leeann (Annie Hsu ’01), her wrath with hysterical, cathartic monologues in the second act, Steele simply dropped her ignored report by the Vietnam Memorial Wall, and exited to take up the next project.

Like Ms. Annozine’s Steele, Megan Auster-Rosen’s chin-up portrayal of dutiful “Army brat” Martha was straightforward. Though her accent lacked consistency and detracted from her otherwise convincing performance, by Act II Ms. Auster-Rosen’s character, donning an ever-starched nurse cap, emerged as one of the most psychologically sound.

Much more disillusioned was pretty Maryjo, played by Shira Golding ’02. Maryjo introduced herself as a 17-year-old Texas country singer with big hair and white go-go boots, an appropriately amusing decision made by costume designer Melissa Vaccaro ’01. Maryjo’s interrupting melodies highlighted, and in some cases foreshadowed, each actress’ dialogue. They also lent her an innocence that would be later destroyed by starvation, sexual harassment, and rape.

In complete contrast was self-proclaimed hippie Leeann, played by Annie Hsu ’01, whose back-talking held together a broken heart. Her refusal to take off a yellow ribbon while on duty was a realization of authority’s senselessness, and the symbol in itself certainly hit home — even to those in the audience who could barely remember the Gulf War.

Ms. Hsu also portrayed minor Vietnamese characters, in particular a curious-turned-irate local woman.

This ability to jump from major to minor characters as needed, and instantly pick up where he or she last left off, was well-done by all of the actors. As a result, transitions within the dialogue were seamless when intended. Skilled at this technique was A.J. Ferriter ’01, whose role encompassed every American male character in the play — from cocky lieutenants to delirious dying amputees.

Another effective aspect was A Piece of My Heart’s jolting, vivid language. Throughout the play, each woman described graphic encounters with bleeding, limbless soldiers, mangled children, and other horrific images. In the final scene of the first act, a “river of blood” became the women’s red carpet to home; at its edge stood two small Vietnamese children missing hands. Whitney, played by Jessica Heley ’02, summarized a common perspective between all characters when she uttered “women never made a war like that in their lives.”

Unexpectedly, a striking moment occurred when the audience itself was subtly transformed into silent characters. Under the direction of Nathan Blanding, the Vietnam Memorial Wall was projected against each wall of the theater, and names fell upon the audience’s faces. As all six characters surveyed the created illusion, and one said, “I can touch all of them,” viewers got an eerie sense that we were the fallen soldiers who had received the women’s compassionate care.

Friday’s audience was, indeed, touched. As we rose to commend the actors with a standing ovation, I could not help but think “a piece of my heart goes with each of them.”

A post-performance discussion will take place following tonight’s performance. For more information, contact the Center for Theatre Arts Box Office.

Archived article by Pamela Kelly