Heritage High School
Whether you’re a casual audience member or a theatre veteran, it doesn’t take a war to conclude that Lake Braddock’s rendition of A Piece of My Heart was phenomenal.
Adapted from a memoir written in 1987 by Keith Walker that recounts interviews from female veterans of the Vietnam War, Shirley Lauro’s A Piece of My Heart compiles many of these stories into an anti-war piece that highlights the war’s graphic details and takes the perspective of the women involved. The story highlights 6 women, Martha O’Neill, MaryJo Kincaid, Sissy McCormick, Whitney Desmond, LeeAnn Perrazoli, and Barbara Jean Steele, as they find themselves face-to-face with the devastating effects of the Vietnam War and work tirelessly to help however they can, and as they struggle to cope upon their return home.
The ensemble’s coordination was impressive, whether they were bringing in stretchers of mass casualties or partying in the background or storming through the audience in protest. Each scene was blocked well, using every inch of the space and every member of the cast to create both order and chaos. The ensemble had distinct characters with fun little side moments that made the group scenes feel real, and it seemed like everyone genuinely cared about the message they were working to convey, handling the heavy themes of the show effectively.
The 6 main characters had a powerful group dynamic but also stood out as individuals. Martha (Maddie Hovastak) had a strong voice, good physicality, and an energy that she owned with confidence. MaryJo (Savannah Raeder) had a period-accurate character with a solid accent and a captivating emotional depth. Sissy (Adeline Merlo) showed growth after the war from her initial reluctant character, yet she kept a consistent energy throughout. Whitney (Zoey Golabek) had good consistency in her character and an excellent stage presence with realistic acting. LeeAnn (Jannesta Marshall) had powerful inflection, effective use of silence, and a good understanding of her character. Steele (MaKayla Super) was confident, with distinct mannerisms and intonation that created a convincing character.
The technical elements were fantastic, as well, immersing the audience in the story. With realistic amputations, a prosthetic mask, and a lot of fake blood, courtesy of the special effects (Aaron Ruggeiro) and makeup (Riley Sheetz) crews, the devastating outcomes of the many bloody battles in Vietnam were all too real. The lighting (Ethan Feil) and sound (Christian Ryder) effects also helped create an effective atmosphere, pairing shifting colors, and even projections, on the cyclorama with the sounds of heart monitors, pulsing noises, and others including a censoring sound that was timed impressively well; in fact, all of these effects were executed with precision. For a nice additional touch, there were several musical performances by a live band, featuring Raeder as a vocalist.
The cast and crew did a wonderful job of bringing this story to life and honoring the countless veterans of the Vietnam War with their performance.
Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
The audience stands as Jimi Hendrix's distorted national anthem is played on electric guitar. The stage is bare, with the exception of a black wall covered in names - The Vietnam Memorial. The horrors of the Vietnam War have been chronicled for decades, telling of the hardships of the millions of soldiers in Vietnam. In Lake Braddock High School’s production of “A Piece of My Heart,” a lesser-known side is presented: that of the women who served in Vietnam. Following the tales of a Warrant Officer, a USO performer, and several nurses, Lake Braddock presents a touching and eye-opening production on the horrors of war, based on real interviews from women who served.
The show’s six leading women all gave incredible performances. They all have different reasons for enlisting in Vietnam, including an army brat following in her parent’s footsteps, a small-town girl wanting to get out of Erie, Pennsylvania, and an aspiring musician trying to jump-start her career. Soon enough they all find themselves standing together in the Viet jungle and they aren’t so different.
The play takes place over two acts, the first in Vietnam, and the second in the decade and a half following the girls’ return. Both acts were incredibly powerful, showing the short and long term effects of the war on American citizens. Adeline Merlo gave a particularly moving performance as Sissy McCormick, an Army Nurse whose family started experiencing the effects of Agent Orange poisoning years after she returned from the war. Zoey Golabek stood out as Red Cross nurse Whitney Desmond, who developed a drinking problem in Nam that followed her back to the states. Savannah Raeder helped provide some relief of tension with her musical performances as USO performer Maryjo Kincaid until she too is affected by the war when she meets some men who haven’t seen a woman in months.
Where Lake Braddock truly excelled was in the atmosphere of the show. Using clever lighting, engrossing special effects, and an incredible ensemble they were able to truly embody the spirit of America in the late 60s, showing both the support and disdain for one of the most controversial wars in history. Psychedelic colors, denim, and rock music enveloped the show without being overbearing or cheesy. A live band provided by a stinging electric guitar and heavy drums built the atmosphere in the room, inciting panic or adrenaline in a way only music can do.
The special effects were scarily realistic. In one memorable scene, the nurses are treating casualties soon after landing. Men had blown off limbs, bloody uniforms, and even a half missing face. The scene was a shock, a sudden reminder that war was not a game and real lives were at stake.
Clocking in at nearly two and a half hours, “A Piece of My Heart” has imagery and themes that some may find disturbing, but such is the nature of war. Lake Braddock High School presents an important tale of women in the war, treating the subject matter with the respect and veracity it deserves.