Masquers’ production of A Piece of My Heart proves to be a tale of war, love and forgiveness

By Charles Norton, Staff Writer

Armstrong Masquers’, A Piece of My Heart, sold out September 10-14 at the Black Box at Jenkins Hall. The production was a great success due to its stellar cast, seasoned director, and crisp, emotional writing from playwright, Shirley Lauro.

A Piece of My Heart is a two act drama centering around six women with various ethnic and cultural backgrounds, that serve in Vietnam in 1968.  The play pulls no punches as it points out important cultural and feminist issues of the 1960s- 1970s.

In the beginning of Act 1, the women are young, innocent, and eager to experience what life has to offer. However, as the play progresses, the characters soon discover the bloody realities of war.  They are tricked into volunteering for a tour of duty on the front lines of Vietnam and are thrown into mass casualty situations.  Piece of My Heart plays these action-packed scenes with the raw urgency of a wartime hospital.

After spending a year in Vietnam, all return to the US.  However, they soon realize that attitudes in the US have changed about Vietnam.  They encounter anti-war protests and feel that they no longer fit into society.

The women begin to feel the same feelings that servicemen today experience, such as guilt, depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Disillusioned and depressed, they turn to alcoholism and everyday sounds trigger traumatic flashbacks of Vietnam.  Finally after turning to each other for support and seeking therapy to cope, they meet at the dedication of The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. in 1982, where each leaves a personal memento from the war.

LeeAnn, portrayed by Elaina Valore, loved and shared her character’s fire and spirit.  After researching and playing her role, she has a greater understanding of the sacrifices our military service men and women make to keep our country safe.  “The play shows that this war could have been any war,” she says.  “It shows how stupid war can be and how much destruction it causes, not only where the war is being fought, but also with the men and women who fight them.”

Kelsey Dabney, who plays Steele, felt her tough-as-nails character was honest and charismatic. She felt like Steele had so much to prove, not only as a woman, but as an African American enlisted soldier in the 1960s. “There was no respect for the dedication to her country Steel had in Vietnam,” Dabney said. “I am so glad we don’t treat our military like that today. Hate the war–not the soldier.”

Red Cross volunteer, Whitney, played by Emmi Frankum, was nervous at first about playing her character, but found it challenging. She found it ironic that after returning to the US after her tour of duty; “There seemed to be no one to give me (Whitney) love and support when I needed it.  She had struggles like everyone else that served in the military.” Frankum has a respect for our servicemen, “Whenever I see a soldier in a military truck or a bus full of soldiers, I blow them a kiss because anyone that serves, whether in war or peace, sacrifices so much,” she said

Woven so skillfully, like a golden thread, is the use of music in Piece of My Heart.  Diana Richardson, who played Mary Jo, sang and played her guitar throughout much of the show.  The lyrics of the final song are fitting to the end of the play. Bookends, by Simon and Garfunkle, tells the listener to, ”Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left of you.”