CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Charleston Stage Company's production of "A Piece of My Heart" is no light dose of theater. It is an intense retrospective of six women who served our country during Vietnam. The cast brings to life the horrors and atrocities of the daily lives of women who volunteered -- sometimes unwittingly -- to put their lives, their innocence and their sanity on the line in service to their country.
The play starts off somewhat slowly with each character performing a monologue of how she ended up in Vietnam. This pedantic intro is in no way indicative of the intensity to follow. The play quickly catches the audience in a gripping stranglehold of unrelenting passion broken only by a much-needed intermission.
The intensity level is exponentially increased through the use of a layering dialogue technique that at some points is so intense that it leaves even the most stoic audience member a ball of jangling nerves.
The atrocities are so layered and so vivid it is easy to lose sight of what party has perpetrated them. USO volunteers are raped by soldiers, nurses strangle members of the Viet Cong, women are assaulted, children are maimed, and soldiers are sacrificed.
Meanwhile, we watch six women propelled through a land and environment so alien to them it could only be a nightmare from which they wish to wake.
Unfortunately, it is real.
The cast of "A Piece of My Heart" does such a fantastic job of acting as a unit that it is impossible to untangle one performance from another. Instead, they meld together into an entity bigger than any one actor.
We see them struggle with their duties, their loyalties, their femininity, and their relationships with men, superiors and each other. Each actress does an excellent job but it is sometimes confusing as they slip seamlessly between their primary roles and the supportive roles in each other's stories.
In the second act, the women return stateside to a world they no longer recognize and into which they no longer belong. It is heart wrenching. We see them struggle against sexism, racism, depression, the inability to find work and the inability to function outside the war that has defined them.
The women of the Charleston Stage Company do a fantastic job pulling the audience toward them and engulfing us in their stories. The play both inspires patriotism and simultaneously instills a hatred for war. "A Piece of My Heart" is compelling, gritty, sad, and a must-see."A Piece of My Heart" plays February 24, 25 and March 1, 2 and 3 at 7:30 p.m. at the WVSU Capitol Center Theater.