A Piece of My Heart
by La Jolla High School

La Jolla High School is getting a reputation for taking on some of the most powerful dramas that deal with modern society, offering students an unusually early chance to tackle hard-hitting and sometimes controversial roles. A couple years ago it was a stunning production of The Laramie Project. This year, Director Ann Boutelle’s new group is taking on the subject of war with Shirley Lauro’s A Piece of My Heart – an award-winning play that explores the role of American women in Vietnam.

We see the war and its effects through the tale of six unrelated women who offer us glimpses into their most enduring memories of their experiences from their recruitment (mostly under slight “misunderstandings” with dubious recruitment officers), to their often harrowing but at times inspiring stay in country, to its aftermath upon their immediate return and for several years afterwards that come to include anti-war protests, the Vietnam Memorial, health concerns stemming from Agent Orange, adjusting to civilian life, and being haunted by their memories.

These memories are interwoven throughout, sometimes narrated and sometimes acted out by the women and the ensemble – personal reminisces of flying into Vietnam, their first encounter with the ghastly injuries in war, finding diversions, falling in love, dealing with dangers that are ever-present but not always obvious, dealing with rape, dealing with death, and trying to find peace in the years that followed.

They are memories based on true stories of the women who served including army nurses Martha (Reem Mahmmood), Sissy (Alix Weege), and LeAnn (Rose Abramoff), debutante Red Cross worker Whitney (Nelly Bablumian), intelligence expert Steele (Patricia Odero), and Mary Jo (Stephanie Ward) as the lead singer of an all-girl band who warms up the troops with such numbers as These Boots Were Made for Walkin’ and mourns their dead with Amazing Grace. Impressive performances by them all provide maximum impact for their stories, and the play contains several powerful moments – especially as Mary Jo describes how her claims of being raped by soldiers was met with smirks by military brass, and as Martha delivers a blistering verbal assault on the top of the military chain who wronged the troops so much, but who will never see justice.

Director Ann Boutelle does a magnificent job with the complex staging and timing, and with her uncensored approach to the script that left the controversial scenes in, making it all the more realistic. It’s clear from their intensity that the cast is taking it to heart. After all, these are real stories not just of history, but of things that are happening now in Iraq, possibly with some alumni of La Jolla High that the students may have known, and it will likely still be going on when all of them have graduated. Their poignant performances remind us of the sacrifices we call upon our youth to make during war, and why it is so vital to only go to war when it truly is a last resort.

Performs through November 7, 2004.

Rob Hopper
National Youth Theatre

~ Cast ~

Martha: Reem Mahmood
Mary Jo: Stephanie Ward
Sissy: Alix Weege
Whitney: Nelly Bablumian
LeAnn: Rose Abramoff
Steele: Patricia Odero
Head Nurse(s) & Ensemble: Julie McGrew
Seth Biberstein
Emily Bookstein
Mary Plant-Thomas
Stephen Ravet
Paul Tillman
Paris Tobin
Katie Wachsman
Niki Zager

Director: Ann Boutelle
Stage Manager: Katie Willert
Set Designer: Ann Boutelle
Costume Designer: Katherine Ward
Lighting Designer: Chris Renda
Sound Designer: Bob Taylor


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