Review: ‘A Piece of My Heart’ at Bowie Community Theatre

Female Vietnam veterans are saluted as actors give their whole hearts in Bowie Community Theatre’s A Piece Of My Heart, through November 18th.

Jaharri as Steele in A Piece of My Heart, presented by Bowie Community Theatre. Photo by Andrew Culhane.
Jaharri as Steele in A Piece of My Heart, presented by Bowie Community Theatre. Photo by Andrew Culhane.

It seems likely that every veteran fights two wars: one against the enemy as part of the US forces, military and otherwise, and another trying to reintegrate at home after their time of service. The play A Piece Of My Heart considers both. In a bold move, Bowie Community Theatre, now in its 52nd season, mounts this Vietnam War-era period piece about social justice and about the armed forces. Through November 18th, audiences unaccustomed to believing US military forces and social activism are not in direct opposition have the opportunity to see what may be a completely unique look at Vietnam: through the eyes of women.

There are a number of media treatments of the Vietnam War: Miss Saigon, The 5th Of July, Good Morning, Vietnam, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, M*A*S*H, The Deer Hunter… but A Piece Of My Heart is uniquely fully devoted to the experience of female Vietnam personnel. Even in the television series China Beach, “considered to be a female version of M*A*S*H ” (IMDB), male actors outnumber female ones.

A Piece of My Heart is primarily a series of monologues, with brief “flashback” style interactions between characters, portrayed by six women and one man. There is a great deal here that is heart-rending, and nothing at all that is graphic or gory.

The script of A Piece Of My Heart, by Shirley Lauro, is billed as a drama, and though there are a few funny moments contained therein, it’s serious business throughout. Production is pared-down, not quite minimalist, though it could’ve been successfully done that way also. Director Cody Jones brings authenticity and grit to the production, which, handled with less deft a touch, might’ve come across as superficial or smug. The actors manage Costume Designer Jenny Oberholtzer’s frequent costume changes capably, always looking not only in period, but also in character.

The actors have a heckuva job. A show of mostly monologues gives little opportunity for support from scene partners, and the serious nature of the material guarantees that audience investment is indicated by silence, or near-silence, which is nearly indistinguishable from quiet indifference. That is, the cast has little crowd energy to feed on while they’re onstage. Stephanie Allender as Whitney goes through remarkable character growth, whereas Liv Allen as Mary Jo begins with youthful confidence, but finishes embittered and brittle. As Sissy, Diana Hutter transforms from tentative to tiger. As The American Men, Bill Bodie is hateful and hapless, supportive, slimy, surly and sad. Jaharri, in the role of Steele, is smooth and 100% believable, every word and phrase. Malia Murray, playing LeeAnn, voices the frustration and fury of feminism in blunt terms with unmodulated passion.

Stephanie Allender as Whitney in A Piece of My Heart, presented by Bowie Community Theatre. Photo by Andrew Culhane.
Stephanie Allender as Whitney in A Piece of My Heart, presented by Bowie Community Theatre. Photo by Andrew Culhane.

Though it is not a show for small children, any youngster unshocked by adult language deserves to see this production. Cuts to school budgets, mandated testing and teacher salaries being linked to test scores may leave little time in the curriculum for a war the U.S. dug into, and lost, and kept losing. Kids may never know about Vietnam unless you make sure they do.

A Piece Of My Heart offers a gateway into under-explored territory: “the ‘Nam,” from a female perspective. You may be moved to go home, as I did, and research the Vietnam conflict, and the role of women in it. Tell your daughters. Tell your sons. This is a story people ought to know. Enough with silencing women. Let’s hear it. Let’s hear it ALL.

Run Time: Two hours, plus one fifteen-minute intermission.

A Piece Of My Heart, presented by Bowie Community Theatre, plays through November 18, 2018, at Bowie Playhouse, 16500 White Marsh Park Drive, Bowie, MD 20715. Tickets are available at the door, cash or check only. Credit card ticket purchases can be made online.

Note: Bowie Community Theatre, a non-profit, all-volunteer organization, is currently hosting a food drive for the Bowie Food Bank along with A Piece Of My Heart. Contribution of a non-perishable food item entitles the donor to one concession item, free of charge.

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