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Stage Company play examines women's roles in Vietnam War

Chip Ellis
Director Frieda Forsley says Charleston Stage Company's "A Piece of My Heart" covers a wide spectrum of experiences and emotions of women who served during the Vietnam War.
WANT TO GO?"A Piece of My Heart"Presented by Charleston Stage Company WHERE: Capitol Center Theater, 123 Capitol St.WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and March 1-3TICKETS: Adults $15, students and seniors $10.INFO: 304-343-5272 or www.charlestonstagecompany.comCHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A lot of plays have been produced about soldiers returning home after war. Not so many have been produced about the women who came home, too. Shirley Lauro's "A Piece of My Heart," presented by the Charleston Stage Company beginning Thursday, is one of the few."The basic message is the same as a lot of others: war is hell," said the company's artistic director Frieda Forsley. But "A Piece of My Heart" is a tour of a different, perhaps lonelier, part of hell. It focuses on six stories from Keith Walker's eponymous book of accounts from women who served in Vietnam."It covers a wide spectrum of experience," Forsley said. "There are nurses, Red Cross workers and a WAC [Women's Army Corps]. There was a lot of tension and some disillusionment."Some of the nurses were promised they would be working with the most modern equipment in what they thought were regular hospitals. Instead, they found themselves in places that weren't that, working in difficult conditions, treating men blown apart and missing limbs with their faces torn off."They were told they'd be safe. Instead, they were shot at, shelled and traumatized like anyone else in a war zone."And none of them," she pointed out, "was drafted. They were all volunteers."
Forsley said the women often were ignored or forgotten. She added that the government didn't take what they did very seriously. It didn't even bother keeping track of how many women were in Vietnam or what they were doing. She also said that while she doubted many of the women ran into the same trouble with the public that some soldiers did as they returned home, these women weren't necessarily given the honor and respect they deserved, either."A Piece of My Heart" is meant to stir up strong emotions, and it has, particularly with the cast. Returning to the production are Emily Alice Dunn and Patricia Rosebourgh. Both were in the 2006 Stage Company production directed by Glenn Frail.
Rosebourgh said she returned not only because it was one of her favorites, but also because it left a mark on her. She empathized with the traumas and frustrations of the women who served in Vietnam."It left me with the meaning that women experience the same feelings men do when they're involved in war and shipped overseas."In particular, her character, Steele, is marginalized not only because she's a woman in a man's army, but also because she's black and college educated, but not an officer.Dunn was only a teenager when she was first involved with the production as the stage manager. This time, she plays Sissy, a wide-eyed and naïve nurse who loses her innocence during the war. Dunn said she has better understanding of the character now than when she might have in 2006."I'm not as wide-eyed or naïve as I was. While I haven't been in combat, I've experienced some things that help me understand some of what my character went through. I know what it's like to hear someone's last words."Dunn said the trauma of the Vietnam War is something America is still trying to absorb and understand.
"It's still part of our popular consciousness," she said. "It wasn't that long ago. We haven't gotten over it." Rosebourgh said we haven't gotten over war in general."We like to think we're above it," she said. "But time and time again, it's been shown that we try to solve problems with violence."Even if that's true, Forsley said what she hopes people would take away from the play is, "No matter what you think of any war -- even if you don't agree with the reason for why they were there -- the people who serve, however they served, deserve our respect and gratitude."Reach Bill Lynch at or 304-348-5195.
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