Mount St. Joseph University’s production of A Piece of My Heart by Shirley Lauro is a powerful and emotionally charged theatrical experience. I attended the Veterans’ Day performance in William’s Recital Hall, which held many veterans whose tears and applause attest to its power.
The play with music, set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, explores the experiences of women who served in assorted capacities during this tumultuous time in history. The first act takes the ladies from searching for a purpose, to volunteering or enlisting, to attempting to manage the waves of casualties 24/7. The second act is their story as they return back to the U.S and try to cobble together a life with PTSD, political propaganda, and protests.
Performances in A Piece of My Heart
The ensemble brings the characters to life. Each actor does a nice job in conveying innocence, overwhelm, frustration, gratitude and more. Freshman Zoe Neinaber is Martha, a strong-willed nurse grappling with the harsh realities of war. Music major Hailey Lipp, as Maryjo, showcases her ability to convey the struggles of a USO girl band.
Senior Claudia Covarrubias, playing Sissy, also a nurse, has great depth and chemistry with the other cast members. Education major Abigail Simon, as Whitney, balances vulnerability and strength. Pre-law major Elizabeth Keller, as nurse Leeann, delivers a rich performance, exploring the toll that war takes on the human spirit. Her recruiting officer tells her she is going to Hawaii, not Vietnam (which got a knowing laugh from the audience).
Sarah Barton, in the role of Steele, exhibits a commanding presence on stage, embodying the resilience of career women in the military in the 1960’s–100% still a man’s world. She also has a beautiful voice and is a bio-med and natural language processing double major.
The supporting male cast members, Luke Riedlinger, Connor Curtin, and Nathaniel Sweeney, portray various American solidiers and officers. Their performances add depth to the story. They represent the big eyed men with shaved heads, before, during, and after the war–many who do not come home. They represent the abusive hook-ups, or the officers. Freshman Riedlinger is one to watch.
Production Team for A Piece of My Heart
The production’s staging and technical elements enhanced the overall experience. The set design is an effective backdrop for the action, with bamboo benches serving as multiple pieces or stretchers, along with wooden plank ramps and sandbags. Lighting and sound cues are well-executed. Clothing (Caroline Stine) and props evoke the time period. The team does a nice job on the musical elements, reminding the non-veterans in the audience it was the 1960’s over there as well as in the states.
Director Lauren Carr should be commended for her interpretation of the material and the seamless coordination of the young ensemble.
Mount St. Joseph University’s production of “A Piece of My Heart” is a thought-provoking exploration of the human cost of war. This show builds empathy for those born after the Vietnam War. It is also apt as we hear news of the many brutal wars around the world today. It will leave a lasting impact on the audience as well as the growing and diverse Mount St. Joseph Theatre program.
Tickets can be purchased HERE. The show runs through November 18. Keep in mind the subject matter can be triggering.
Renaissance Scholarship Program
The Mount has an amazing program called “MSJ Renaissance” which provides a $500 scholarship per semester for students of any major who participate in the performing arts (band, singing, theatre, and writing) as “a revival of the arts and of the campus.” This is a wonderful idea. For more information go to www.msj.edu/Renaissance.