A Piece of My Heart
by Blue Valley High School Theatre

Photo by R. Bruhn Photography.In Shirley Lauro’s drama A Piece of My Heart, we are given a glimpse into the fear, horror, confusion, and scarring of war from the unique viewpoint of six female Vietnam veterans. Director Dan C. Schmidt and his cast from Blue Valley High School in Stilwell, Kansas captures it all with remarkably deep and intense portrayals of the women, from brief looks at their pre-war lives to their painful experiences in Vietnam to their post-war traumas – the scars of war that do not simply disappear the moment the battlefield is left behind.

The women tell their stories interchangeably throughout, narrating short anecdotes from their memories that are often acted out with members of the larger ensemble cast. Sometimes these are short monologues, but occasionally the lines flow from person to person every few words – a device that sounds disjointed, but the writing and performances by the cast make it surprisingly effective.

The talented Stefanie Wienecke took on the role of Leanne – a fun and outspoken anti-establishment gal from New York who can’t wait to become a nurse and take care of the wounded in Hawaii. When ordered to march, she hula dances. Coming face-to-face with blood and death quickly brings her to cold reality. But in some ways it hits her even harder when she returns home to insensitive military personnel and war protestors, bringing everything she’d experienced in Vietnam flooding back, finally releasing some of the wrenching emotions she’d been keeping inside.

As Mary Jo, Sarah Cline also adds to the small portions of comedy in the show as the lively and beautiful lead singer of the Sugar Land All-Girl Band who goes to entertain the troops. But her dynamic personality clearly becomes more of a show after she is gang-raped by a few GI’s. A rape smirked at by the army brass. Her life is forever haunted by the memories, resulting in a bout with alcoholism and a fear of anyone dressed in khaki – a far cry from the vibrant woman who was excited to be on her way to Vietnam, and painful to see.

Lauren Friedlander is magnificent as the confident and savvy intelligence officer Steele who knows what she’s getting into, but wants to help. When her warnings about the upcoming Tet Offensive are ignored, it shakes her strength and leaves her grappling with all the lives that could have been saved if the army had listened to her – or if she could have found some other way to make them listen to her.

Samantha Steinmetz is Whitney, a clean-cut debutante who joins the Red Cross and is told not to fraternize with the troops. When her boyfriend finally grows angry for not consummating the relationship and tells her that he never wants to see her again. He dies in combat the next day. Her silent reaction to the breakup, and learning about his death, are sincere and moving. As is Maggie Haren’s reaction, as Martha, to her father’s cold reception on her return, telling her to stay in the service for twenty years rather than listening to her wartime experiences.

Photo by R. Bruhn Photography.And finally, Alexandra Matteo stars as Sissy, a refugee from Eerie, Pennsylvania who hopes for some adventure. An adventure that becomes a nightmare when she gives us one of the most powerful scenes of the play. On her first day in Vietnam, she leaves the side of a dying GI to get help as he begs her to stay with him. A decision she always regrets, wishing she had been there for him. To hold his hand. Death continues to hover over her long after her return to America, when her daughter born after the war begins to display health problems associated with Agent Orange, and Sissy begins to have similar symptoms. And the army denies any such links.

Although they mostly tell their stories separately, the other women are listening, conveying sympathy and understanding not with hugs but with more subtle body language and expressions. And their scenes that are shared by all of them are strong – their frightening landing into Vietnam under enemy fire, and the mutual healing that was found on the day when the Vietnam memorial wall was opened, listing the names of the more than 58,000 young men and women who died, taking away so many pieces of our hearts.

Performed June 27, 2007.

Rob Hopper
National Youth Theatre

~ Cast ~
Photo by R. Bruhn Photography.Martha: Maggie Haren
Mary Jo: Sarah Cline
Leanne: Stefanie Wienecke
Sissy: Alexandra Matteo
Whitney: Samantha Steinmetz
Steele: Lauren Friedlander
Justin Prelogar
Tyler Duke
Collin Isham
Nick Renaud
Harrison Drake
Scott Bolton
Collin Kessler
Alex Katsorelos
Jill Haer
Laurel Hill
Kaitlin Gould
Allison Wightman
Morgan Bingham

Director: Dan C. Schmidt
Technical Director/Lighting Designer: Tyler Lasche
Costume Designer: Annie Wade
Set Design: Caroline Nyman/Tyler Lasche
Stage Managers: Elizabeth Kendrick/Spencer Hockenbery
Sound Effects/Music/Microphones: Ethan Schilf/Carmen Burchett

Photos by R. Bruhn Photography:


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