Mekong hell to pay
A Piece of My Heart
Vietnam. In America it was an era of division, confusion and the beginning of a new political and social awakening. For those serving in the war, it was an era of death, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll—all of which take center stage in the current presentation from Sacramento City College Theatre. But it was more—much more, and its pain, stigmas and effects would be felt by Vietnam veterans, their families and loved ones for decades to come.
After a season of musical and fantasy productions such as Dracula and Blood Brothers, City Theatre once again finds its dramatic roots in the staging of Shirley Lauro’s A Piece of My Heart, first performed in 1988. Though City Theatre has always managed a mixture of experimental as well as classical theater, its true strengths show through in its powerful dramatic presentations.
A Piece of My Heart contains subjects that are, to this day, sensitive and often controversial. Director and artistic designer Robert W. Gore has assembled a stellar cast that turns a difficult and intense production into a powerful, moving event.
The production stars Crystal Bush as Steele, Michelle Taylor as Martha, Shannon Courtney Asher as Mary Jo, Mandee Sue Proctor as Sissy, Christina Loughrey as Whitney and Katherine Pappa as Leanne. Together, the six characters—three nurses, a Red Cross girl, a WAC (Women’s Army Corps) and a country and western singer—relive first their horrific experiences as women in Vietnam, then face the arduous and painful process of returning to civilian life and attempting to come to grips with the horrors to which they had been exposed.
One of the brightest spots of the show is the performance given by Katherine Pappa as Leann, a half-Italian, half-Chinese woman who was assigned to the Vietnam detail. Pappa delivers an amazing performance as her character transitions from a happy-go-lucky, big city girl into a tough-as-nails triage nurse.
Teamed with the six actresses is local actor Norman Hernandez, who plays all the male characters of the show. Though Hernandez manages little deviation in behavior or character from role to role, he successfully tackles over 10 separate characters throughout the production with a number of quick costume changes worthy of the most experienced of actors.
The production is littered with a wide range of staging and lighting techniques, some of which border on distracting. One interesting effect is that created from large sheets of Plexiglas representing the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. Yet none of the effects outshine the strength of the cast, as well as Gore’s strong direction, which pulls this show together and will leave audiences on the edge of their seats.
This production is definitely not one to bring the kids to, and though Gore does not use sensationalistic tactics that could easily be used to represent the devastating carnage that is so common in shows of this nature, the psychological effects could be overwhelming for some.
Bringing awareness not only to the plight and issues surrounding Vietnam veterans, the production highlights the contributions made by women—many of whom volunteered for frontline duty. Half the ticket proceeds will be donated to charity organizations for Vietnam veterans.
A Piece of My Heart is an example of modern drama at its finest and will leave its audiences perhaps more knowledgeable about a time in American history that is still a jumble of confusion in the minds of most Americans.