University Theater produced a dynamic and well-researched performance of the play “A Piece of My Heart” from March 3 through March 11 in the Vilas Hall-Hemsley Theatre.
Written by University of Wisconsin alum and renown playwright Shirley Lauro, the play details fictionalized stories of six women’s experiences serving in the Vietnam War as nurses, Red Cross workers and performers. The show confronts the horrors of this conflict and its aftermath in brutal, human detail. The play, directed by professor Baron Kelly in UW’s production, explores how patriotism breaks down in the reality of war and how forming a community is essential for coping with unimaginable trauma.
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The scenic design by Rob Wagner and lighting design by Ana Gonzalez Clark were simple but effective and helped to present the character’s stories as representative of many of the women who served in Vietnam. Projection elements were used sparingly at the beginning and end of the play but could have been incorporated more throughout the show to bring the many settings of the story to life.
Reina Werth’s costume design was thoroughly researched, with small garments used to transform characters scene-by-scene. I appreciated the choice to keep characters in their base military uniforms in the second act when they had returned home from Vietnam to emphasize how their trauma lingered years after the war.
The show was well-suited for the UW Theater Department’s current body of students and the cast was consistently strong in their roles. Each actor embraced the powerful moments in their characters’ narrative and all together delivered a moving performance.
Some especially notable performances include Allison Hesselberg as Whitney, a young East Coast elite who volunteers to join the war effort through the Red Cross as a “donut dollie,” presenting skillful movement and dialect work. Libby LaDue also shines as a member of the small ensemble, portraying many different characters with close attention paid to mannerism and vocal inflection.
This play presents a war story from an often-overlooked perspective in the genre by focusing on women’s involvement in the Vietnam war in positions that were largely uncelebrated and undocumented. The production was timely in its themes and felt necessary in the historical moment facing the world — a precedent that I hope continues in future shows produced by University Theater.
Intense and moving, “A Piece of My Heart” was a dynamic piece of theater propelled by wonderful performances and design.