A Piece of My Heart - Wellesley Repertory Theatre
A Piece of My Heart – Wellesley Repertory Theatre
Review by James Wilkinson
A Piece of My Heart is presented by Wellesley Repertory Theatre. Written by Shirley Lauro. Directed by Nora Hussey. Set Design by Janie Howland. Costume Design by Chelsea Kurl. Lighting Design by Matt Whiton. Projection Design by Johnathan Carr. Sound Design by George Cooke. Dramaturgy by Laura Zawarski.
There’s been a long overdue push in recent years, for the inclusion of a wider range of voices and experiences in mainstream culture. I found myself thinking about this push while I was watching Wellesley Repertory Theatre’s production of Shirley Lauro’s A Piece of My Heart precisely because the production is a prime example of what can happen when you let the perspectives of underrepresented groups into the room. Suddenly we’re able to come at institutions, narratives and historical events from new angles. The Vietnam War looms large for artists of a certain generation and can seem like a “been there/done that” topic. Artistic mediums have been dissecting both the war itself and the circumstances surrounding it since before it was even over. But as I was watching Wellesley Rep’s show, I realized that while I could easily name a number of cultural artistic touchstones that told the story of the men in that war, (Born on the Fourth of July, Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, The Deer Hunter, the works of Tim O’Brien, etc), there weren’t any stories that immediately came to mind that focused on the women who acted beside those men. That’s where Lauro’s play and Wellesley Rep’s production comes in. In addition to being a finely crafted evening of theater, A Piece of My Heart provides a necessary history lesson on a traditionally underserved group, female Vietnam Vets.
In Lauro’s play the large strokes of the characters’ arcs are perhaps not too different from any of the male-centric stories that I listed above. We watch as a collection of women decide to join the war effort, cope with the high stress of working in combat and then return home to a country that is unable to properly take care of them. Part of what is different and interesting here is how Lauro chooses to present these stories. Each of the women speaks for herself, often times directly addressing the audience and the focus cuts between the different women as each details her own particular experiences with battle. The effect of this mosaic of voices is a kind of living memoir. In the play’s opening scene, the characters stand, facing away from us, and one by one each gets the chance to turn to the audience and narrate their own story.
I’ve seen other plays employ direct address and in the past I’ve always found it to have a somewhat frustratingly distancing effect. Rather than getting the chance to be in the scene, the audience is told about the scene. But here, director Nora Hussey and her cast of actors find a way to pull the audience in so that the events of the play feel immediate and intimate. What we’re getting is the direct and emotional experience of these women as it is happening. Being a play concerned with war, it’s no surprise that some of the most visceral moments come during battle scenes, but the real magic of this production comes from a very subtle, hypnotic spell that it casts to draw you in. In the final scenes of the play when the characters meet at a vet support group, after watching everything the characters had gone through, I found myself incredibly moved by where they end up and how they push on. Certainly this is a testament to the fantastic company of actors who really invest in the journey of the characters. When we meet them they’re full of optimism and pluck. By the end of the play, they don’t regret their service to their country, but the actors’ faces show that they’re now aware of the high personal cost they paid.
I realize that by saying that it would be good for you to see A Piece of My Heart it sounds like I’m telling you to eat your vegetables. And it’s true, I do think that there’s value in being exposed to narratives about underserved groups like women and people of color. But at the end of the day, this production is so much more than that. Ultimately what recommends the production is the heart and humanity that the Wellesley Repertory Theater team has put it into it. And having just celebrated Memorial Day, the play also serves as a touching reminder of the cost often paid by those who serve.
A Piece of My Heart is presented by Wellesley Repertory Theatre May 31-June 24, 2018
For tickets and more information, visit their website: www.wellesleyrepertorytheatre.org