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American Century Theater A Piece of My Heart

By • Sep 16th, 2009 • Category: Reviews
A Piece of My Heart
The American Century Theater
Gunston Arts Center, Arlington, VA
Through October 10th
Reviewed September 13th, 2009

A Piece of My Heart is the thought-provoking Vietnam themed play currently being offered at The American Century Theater. It’s not lightweight fare, and in these times, people may not be ready for something so relevant to today’s war, today’s hardships. That being said, it’s extremely well done and should be seen. The play is presented in two acts, the first revolving around the team of young female nurses sent to Vietnam (none with a true idea of what they were facing) and their experiences there. The second act deals with the aftermath…coming home feeling like heroes and being greeted with the same disdain that Americans had for the troops when they arrived. It’s a very unique perspective, the often unheard story of women and what they went through during such a traumatic time in our history. It’s a testimony to their unflinching strength, to live through such harrowing ordeals, and to rebound from the Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome that many of them suffered.

The direction by Jason M. Beagle is exceptional. He’s fashioned interesting visuals in the unique space that is Gunston Arts II. The set (HannaH J Crowell, Christie Swaney) is sturdy and functional, and there’s a careful choreography (Robin Covington, Momo Nakamura, Anne Veal) of the actors’ movement as well as excellent use of the props to change characters and settings. Each transition is seamless, and the women move with precision befitting the military.

The six person female ensemble was very good as a whole; they worked well together and created a terrific synergy. Between their movements, and the perfectly timed and executed lighting (Brian S. Allard) and sound (Tim Morse) design, they managed to recreate the terror and chaos of the war. It was realistic and done without melodrama, not an easy feat in such a small space.

Not all the casting was quite right…as talented as the ladies were, some more were believable than others. Keeping it realistic is crucial to the integrity of a show like this. Some of the actors during their monologue segments broke the fourth wall while others didn’t. It needs to be more uniform in that respect, erring on the side of keeping them as reveries instead of making eye contact with the audience.

Touching on topics that ranged from feminism to sexuality to the effects of Agent Orange, the writing overall was quite strong. Doing it a tremendous justice was Anne Veal as Whitney, a society Vassar grad who holds her own as a nurse but finds solace in the bottom of a martini. Veal was strikingly good, using her booming voice and piercing eyes as well as wonderful expression to convey her character’s emotions. Jeri Marshall as Steely, the career officer who struggled to find her rightful place in the military as both an African American and as a woman, was excellent. She never veered into the aggressive or belligerent stereotype as a woman wronged. Marshall gave us a strong, beautifully composed portrait of a woman who maintained her honor throughout her experience. Marshall sings just a bit near the end of the show, an a capella version of “We Shall Overcome” and it’s hauntingly beautiful.

Melissa W. Bailey as Mary Jo, the folk singer who goes to Nam to entertain the troops, is sweetly genuine. She keeps the story moving with her guitar and her strong, low vocals, and her earnest delivery.

The lone man in the show, Greg Gallagher, plays all the American men (troops, officers, etc.) to great success. Gallagher changes characters subtly and with confidence.

Nearly all of the elements came together. The costumes and props (Ceci Albert) were well done and appropriate. The period music (Tim Morse) was an upbeat and welcome companion to the show. With a piece as intricate as this one, two stage managers (Christine Lange, Bob Pierce) were needed; their diligence kept the show running smoothly. The brief moments of 60s girl group rock singing and moves added humor and a wonderful sense of time.

Staging this particular show to open on 9/11, with its sometimes unrelenting intensity and drama, is a risky move by TACT. Will everyone want to see it? Probably not. Overheard in the lobby at intermission by an elderly man: “No one knows how to suffer these days.” He was referring to general theatre and movie audiences, always wanting to be entertained with light and fun selections. There’s nothing wrong with that…but sometimes it’s a good idea to see the deeper pieces. And if you do spend an evening seeking honesty, realism, and well done drama, there’s no better to place to see it. The show is an achievement.

Photo Gallery

Jeri Marshall as Steele (foreground) and Melissa Bailey as Mary Jo Anne Veal as Whitney
Jeri Marshall as Steele (foreground) and Melissa Bailey as Mary Jo
Anne Veal as Whitney
Melissa Bailey, Gregory Gallagher and Christine Hirrell Robin Covington (Cissy) and Momo Nakamura (LeeAnn)
Melissa Bailey, Gregory Gallagher and Christine Hirrell
Robin Covington (Cissy) and Momo Nakamura (LeeAnn)

Photos provided by the American Century Theater

Cast

  • Martha: Christine Hirrell
  • Mary Jo: Melissa W. Bailey
  • Sissy: Robin Covington
  • Whitney: Anne Veal
  • LeeAnn: Momo Nakamura
  • Steele: Jeri Marshall
  • All the American men: Greg Gallagher

Crew

  • Producer: Sherri L. Perper
  • Director: Jason M. Beagle
  • Stage Managers: Christine Lange, Bob Pierce
  • Assistant Stage Manager: Lexi Haddad
  • Set Design: HannaH J Crowell
  • Master Carpenter: Christie Swaney
  • Lighting Design: Brian S. Allard
  • Sound Design: Tim Morse
  • Costume & Properties Design: Ceci Albert
  • Sound Operator: Ben Allen
  • Set Construction: Christie Swaney, Morgan Sexton, Norman Lee IV
  • Movement and Choreography: Robin Covington, Momo Nakamura, Anne Veal
  • Publicity: Yvonne Hudson
  • Program Design and Cover Art: Michael Sherman
  • Production Photography: Sheila Price, Micah Hutz
  • Video Production: Anar Garibov, Center for Digital Imaging Arts
  • Display and Design Intern: Lana Hasou
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