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Play shows new side of 'Nam

ERIC M. JUKELEVICS/Arizona Daily Wildcat

Akasha LaRain Mabry, right, Monica Mason, middle, and Monik Tijerina, back, play the role of nurses holding a fallen soldier, played by Hunter Connors-Herm, in the upcoming play "A Piece of My Heart" at the Laboratory Theatre. The play opens Sunday and runs through March 10.

By Sanders Fabares
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday Feb. 22, 2002

Think back to all the Vietnam stories told over the years. From Coppola's "Apocalypse Now" to Heller's "Catch 22," the focus is on the soldier's experience, telling the men's perspective. Unfortunately, in these productions by men, about men, the women's wartime stories have been totally overlooked.

"A Piece Of My Heart" is a tribute to the true strength of these female patriots.

The play, written by Shirley Lauro, was originally performed for the unveiling of the Vietnam Women's Memorial in 1993. The two-act, two-hour-long play tells the story of the women's experience, both during and after the war. The female roles in the play consist of military nurses, Red Cross workers and a United Service Organizations performer.

The first act addresses the women's romanticized expectations of war and how they learn to deal with the nightmarish reality that was Vietnam.

The shorter second act tells how the women deal with their pasts while re-entering society.

Eve Himmelheber, director and university assistant professor of theater arts, cherishes the importance of the play's subject. Even as she talks about it, her eyes well up with tears.

"We want to be historically accurate and respectful to the women's experiences without making a statement about the war's rights and wrongs," Himmelheber said. "What these women endured for patriotism, liberty and country is itself an extraordinary story."

"A Piece of My Heart" was demanding for cast members because each was required to play a variety of roles. It was also an excellent showcase for their individual talents.

"Each actress has a primary character, but also must play a variety of subsidiary characters," Himmelheber said. "The frequent switching is a real challenge."

To prepare for their roles, the 11 cast members endured a week of simulated boot camp and talked with a real-life nurse who served in Vietnam.

Theater production junior Monick Tijerina, who plays the character of Leeann, understands the serious nature of the play.

"It's not just another play, but a more real story about real events," Tijerina said. "It puts more pressure on me to do this character justice."

Theater production sophomore Jason Moore, one of three male cast members, also feels the weight of the material.

"It's a tribute to people who have had just as hard a time but haven't been able to show it," Moore said. "These women felt like they didn't have the right to feel pain because they weren't the ones fighting."

The play's stage is a black, towering, multi-tiered platform, which illuminates at certain points to show the names of Arizona Vietnam casualties. With jagged lines, high steps and sloped levels, the platform looks like a piece from the German horror film "The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari."

According to set designer and theater production senior Lucas Hickman, there were very specific reasons for this.

"We really wanted to translate the awkwardness of Vietnam and place the actors in an environment which challenged them," Hickman said. "It is a very stimulating set design for the audience to look at."

The set's various levels also let the actors break up the action into different scenes.

"We wanted to have the different levels in order to create isolated moments," Hickman said.

"A Piece Of My Heart" presents the audience with an important and under-appreciated group of American patriots. The stories of these women are tragic and moving, while their strength is truly inspiring.

The play runs Wednesday through March 10 at the Laboratory Theater. Tickets range from $12 to $19; call 621-1162 for more information.


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