A Piece of My Heart
By Shirley Lauro
Directed by Marianne DiQuattro
Annie Russel Theatre
Winter Park, FL
If Coppola ever did an all-female version of “Apocalypse Now,” this could be the script. Its 1960-something and Viet Nam is still just a news item but not yet a revolution. Six enthusiastic yet naïve women sign up for duty in this steamy jungle. Steele (Alliyah Corley) is regular Army intelligence; perhaps that’s an oxymoron but she does her job even if no one pays attention. Whitney (Fiona Campbell) is a bright eyed candy striper, innocent and sworn to remain so even as she picks up a solid drinking problem. Martha (Haley Benson) come from an Army brat background and hoists a pack bigger than she, and Vassar expatriate Whitney (Fiona Gamble) has never seen a man die. That leaves Leeann (Annalisa Moon) who almost blends in, but the experience leaves her confused about what might or might not be her heritage. Then there’s Mary Jo (Amanda Glace), the guitar playing party girl. She’s not even in the army but is offered big bucks by a sleazy promoter. She doesn’t even get GI bill or VA hospitalization, just raped and infected with PTSD.
It’s hard to point out better or worse acting skill; this show was about survival and performance. Everyone here pulled together giving us a shell shocked experience of war time; they even brought an actual tear to my jaded eye. Not bad for smugly safe Winter Park; they all did a damn fine task. The set was a multi-level, multi-purpose slope; this let the imagined blood flow down into the unused orchestra pit. Besides the featured gals, Nicholas D’Alessandro and Johnathan Garcia played the male roles, each rapidly going from dead to alive to back down to dead. D’Alessandro played an entire command chain, and he nailed it.
This is a story of volunteer ideals turning to nightmares; all their hopes into disdained prayers. From classroom to managing 300 plus nearly dead bodies in a week, this is the same trial by fire their equally naïve boyfriends are feeling as the world drops out from under them. The military life is tough but bearable, the camaraderie keeps them afloat, but the tide of unstaunched blood overwhelms them unless they turn off their minds as they surf that wave of body parts. But all nightmares end, and the dawn wakes them up to post war home where things are much worse on a different level. True, in Vietnam bombs and bullets and body parts were a horror, but back home the post-war war battle was all psychological. Job opps were few and stereotyped, racism was as strong as ever, booze no longer dulled the pain and the stronger stuff was stepped on and hard to find.
This show is as traumatic for the audience as it was for the gals and guys on stage. Act One was filled with the horrific and comically gruesome: removing a man’s boot removed his foot. Young local children tried to stab them. Guards were working for the other side, guys died peeing, and the advice given to the newbies was: “Don’t think. Never think. Fill out the forms and move on.” After years of multiple rocket attacks and random death from above, the return to the States was a joyous yet exhausting final to act one. At this point, the play felt complete, and I would have left satisfied. What could they possibly do to top that? Well, that little romp was called Act Two. The girls are home, but not embraced. Jobs are menial at best. Sacrifice was despised. The nation hated the war, and took it out on the returnees; those perpetrating the wars sat back comfortable in their tower office suites. You know the drill, its true for every soldier from Lexington to Mosul. This show may be as close to war as the theater going public will ever experience.
For more information on the Annie Russell Theatre at Rollins College, please visit http://www.rollins.edu/annierussell/current_season/index.html