A PIECE OF MY HEART is Reminder of Our Youth

by Walter Bender

Barley Sheaf Players recently opened their latest offering, A PIECE OF MY HEART by Shirley Lauro. This production follows 6 women (actually the stories of 26 women, recounted in a book by Keith Walker) as they go to Vietnam, their experiences there and what happened when they returned to the USA. We had yet to learn the difference between disagreeing with our nation’s policies and supporting those who serve our country, and this production is a stark reminder of those days.

The cast of A PIECE OF MY HEART: (l. to r.) Melissa Shaner (Whitney), Laurie Burke (Sissy), Kevin Robinson (All the American Men), Andrea Grinwis (Leeann); (first row, left to right) Tia Allen (Steele), Bonnie Schuman (Martha), Aimee Kerr (Mary Jo). The Barley Sheaf Players production runs in Lionville, PA through November 12.

The first act of A PIECE OF MY HEART introduces us to Martha (Bonnie Schuman), a nurse who enlists to please her military parents, MaryJo (Aimee Kerr), the lead singer of an all-girl country band who are signed to tour Vietnam as entertainers, Sissy (Laurie Burke), the woman who goes into nursing and is misled into going to Vietnam, Whitney (Melissa Shaner), the Vassar grad who joins the USO to perform a service, Leeann (Andrea Grinwis) the tough kid from NYC, and Steele (TiaChanel Allen), the career military woman who goes to Vietnam as a military intelligence officer. They are joined in the story by Kevin Robinson who plays a number of different characters, depicting the men these women encountered. The women describe in their own words how they got to Vietnam, some of the experiences there, and the first act ends with them boarding a plane to return home. The second act describes their experiences in the US after they come home, dealing with alienation, PTSD, and Agent Orange disease.

The performances in this production are solid…the women tell the stories very well. Mr. Robinson does a nice job of creating different characters for each situation, and the ladies act and react very believably, for the most part. I thought Ms. Allen’s character was a bit too glib for a career military person, showing a bit too much of the civilian thought process at times. The first act is a bit over-long, and Ms. Kerr’s relative inability to play guitar made some of the sequences a bit hard to follow…her vocal interjections didn’t seem to make sense. The middle section of the act would flow better with the guitar underscoring. But the cast rebounds nicely in the second act, and the frustrations of each of the veterans are allowed to show very nicely.

A PIECE OF MY HEART is an interesting play. It has been labeled as being a bit formulaic and manipulative by the more cynical of my writing peers, and it is a bit preachy at times. However, it tells a story that most of the audience could relate to as memory, not history, and the cast of this production is to be congratulated for doing a credible job with some very difficult material.

Written by Shirley Laurop
Suggested by the book by Keith Walker
Directed by Cindy Schneider
October 28-November 12, 2011
Barley Sheaf Players
810 N. Whitford Road
Lionville, Pa 19363
(610) 363-7075

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