ALT returns to stage with striking drama, "A Piece of My Heart"
After months of canceled productions and empty auditoriums, the Ardmore Little Theatre is back with a powerful stage drama based on the true story of six women who went to Vietnam.
The community theatre’s production of “A Piece of My Heart,” written by Shirley Laura, is a different experience from some of its past productions. It leaves you with a new and profound understanding of the experiences and struggles the women who served in Vietnam faced.
Director Joh Mann said it best when she wrote, “This play has been by far the most personally impactful play in my 35-year history at ALT.” This sentiment was echoed by many of the cast members who found the production emotionally difficult and poignant.
The production focuses on six women, four military nurses, plus a Red Cross volunteer and a singer who performed for the troops. Six local actresses play the women magnificently, switching in and out of various roles to fit different scenarios in addition to their own specific roles.
The play begins with the silhouettes of each woman in a formation resembling a statute at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C. One by one they each share a bit of their backstory and what persuaded them to become a part of the Vietnam War.
Many view the war as a glamorous opportunity, but it doesn’t take long for them to be thrown into the reality of a war they realize they knew nothing about with a shaky landing on foreign soil. Here the sound effects and lighting are key to bringing the audience into the situation that the women are experiencing.
The crew and cast does a fantastic job of using a multitude of resources to change one set into what seems like several different places. At one point, the stage goes dark and all you hear is the deep breathing of the women — a haunting and memorable experience.
Very short musical numbers are also interjected throughout the beginning. The one-liner tunes begin on a happy note, but eventually become equally as haunting as the situation intensifies.
The women go through many personal trials, each with their own personal experience. One that is hard to forget is Mary Jo, played by Eran Opsahl. Mary Jo, a Texas girl who went to LA to break into show business, decided to go to Vietnam to entertain the troops, but eventually found herself in a very scary situation dealing with sexual assault.
Opsahl’s performance literally brings tears to your eyes as she stands alone on the stage signing a tune with a shaky, frightened voice. The trauma of the situation is then further shown by little indications such as Opsahl yanking her hand away from a man.
The other women share other traumatizing experiences and find refuge in each other with a sort of sisterhood. The camaraderie of the cast is apparent and the actresses mesh well with each other, making it feel very fluid and natural. Amid all of the tension and stress, the cast also manages to get a few more light-hearted laughs in.
The production then follows the women’s return to U.S. soil, where they are greeted by demonstrators, pressure from the media and a war-torn nation — realizing that the war will never really be over for them. The story comes full circle at the Memorial Wall in Washington D.C., but this time with a greater understanding from the audience.
“A Piece of My Heart” is a salute to the men and women who served the country during a deeply divisive period in American history. In her director’s note, Mann writes that “the social unrest of our country today is very reminiscent of those days,” but the country “came out on the other side of all this unrest a better country."
Overall, the cast and crew does a fantastic job of pulling off a powerful drama and leaving the audience with a more insightful view into American history and its implications for today.
The play uses very strong language at points, with good reason and addresses some difficult subject matter. The production also includes stressful situations and simulated gunfire, and is not for young audiences. ALT has marked it as PG-14.
Performances are at 7 p.m., Thursday, Friday and Saturday from Oct. 1 to Oct. 3 and 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 4. Following Sunday’s performance, there will be a talk-back session with opportunities for audiences to discuss the play with the cast and crew.
Health and safety concerns necessitate temperature checks, face masks and social distancing. Audience seating will be limited to 50% capacity.
Reservations can be made by calling (580) 223-6387, visiting the ALT office in the Goddard Center, or on the Ardmore Little Theatre website. Admission is $12 for adults and $8 for students.