If you are looking to learn more about women and their involvement in the Vietnam War, you have come to the right place.

october play graphic

I interviewed Lauren Carr, the Mount’s Director of Theatre Arts, about the upcoming fall play, “A Piece of My Heart” by Shirley Lauro. The play centers around the true stories of six brave women sent to Vietnam to serve. It also discusses their struggle to make sense of a war that dramatically changed their lives forever. The production features the music and soul of one of the most tumultuous periods in American history.

While not giving too much of the plot away, Carr provided a basic premise of the play, “’A Piece of My Heart’ is about six women during the Vietnam War. Some of them enlist, and some are sent to Vietnam during the war. It is about their experience facing the war and then coming home to the country that shunned them.”

While men in the United States were drafted and sent over to Vietnam to fight, the significant role that women played in the war is often unacknowledged. This is part of the reason Carr chose this play for students to perform. She explains the process that led her to choose it for this year’s play.

“Show selection is always an interesting adventure for theater. You have to look at  several factors such as if the play has performance value or educational value for the students, as well as the cast size that is available,” she says. “In theater, one of the phrases that is very important to me is that theater is designed to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. It gives us a chance to show a story that would not necessarily be seen or talked about otherwise.”

The production is unique compared to other plays because it highlights a predominately female cast. With only three male roles in the play, it sets the stage for the women of the cast to form a strong bond with each other. The stories of the six women are the heart of the play and what drives the production. Carr believes there is educational value in this format.

“The six main women have an opportunity to form a strong ensemble. They are on stage the entire show and there is no lead role. They have to be there to collaborate and support each other at all times. It is like the best group project; they are learning from each other’s experiences. Our cast is made up of students who are in different years of school. The newer students and more seasoned students can create a cohesive community through this experience.”

Carr hopes that people who watch the play are able to recognize the ongoing struggles of women who served in the Vietnam War. The second act of the play focuses on the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that the women feel after returning from Vietnam. It is important for the audience to recognize that what they experienced in the war did not end when they left.

“It is up to us to continue to support each other and those who experience trauma and PTSD so, we can destigmatize these experiences. I think it is important that we also raise awareness for those who are sexually assaulted, as a couple characters in the play went through this trauma,” she says.  “’A Piece of My Heart’ deals with all these issues, PTSD, sexual assault, and substance abuse, which were characteristic of the time, and are still prevalent today.”

The women in the play serve in distinct roles during the Vietnam War. Some are nurses in the Red Cross that deal with an incredible number of patients at a time. They tend to the soldiers' injuries and wounds and perform amputations. Another character is a performer for the USO with an all-female band to help entertain the soldiers. One of the women is a higher ranking official, an intelligence officer for the United States. Carr describes how this intelligence officer tried to warn the U.S. army of one of the major assaults that took place in Vietnam, but she was not taken seriously, which led to catastrophic consequences.

“She wrote a report about an incoming invasion, and no one listened to her because she was a woman of color. It turned out to be historically one of the turning points in the war for the worse,  known as the Tet Offensive,” Carr explains.

For some background information the Tet Offensive was when North Vietnamese and communist Viet Cong forces attacked targets in South Vietnam. The United States and South Vietnamese militaries suffered greatly after the conflict. The Tet Offensive played an important role in weakening U.S. public support for the war in Vietnam.

Besides the plot of the play, I was curious to know how the director and students prepare for a play to be performed on stage in front of an audience.

“The first couple weeks of rehearsal are spent staging, so everyone knows where to go and when while they are acting on stage. For this play, we brought in an intimacy choreographer,” she explains.

An intimacy choreographer is a “person who is certified to work with any type of intimate contact that happens in a play or theatre production.” This person is important to have while preparing for a production because they make sure that boundaries are drawn, and consent is given between the actors so that they are comfortable and know that the points of contact they make happen only on stage.

“Everything is choreographed, so that everyone feels safe, especially in a show like this that deals with serious subjects such as sexual assault and violence. We worked with our intimacy choreographer for a week to make sure that any time any two people are touching or making eye contact, those things are completely staged with intent. After that, we started practicing lines, while adding in props and character choices,” Carr said.

The cast of “A Piece of My Heart” includes Zoe Nienaber, Hailey Lipp, Claudia Covarrubias, Abby Simon, Elizabeth Keller, Sarah Barton, Luke Riedlinger, Connor Curtin, Nate Sweeney, Kayla Fannin, and Rylinn Kemphaus. If you are interested in seeing this creative production, you can buy a ticket online at MSJTheatre.Booktix.com. Tickets are $5 for MSJ students and $10 for adults. Performances are Nov. 9, 10, 11, and 17 at 7 p.m. at the Williams Recital Hall. There is also a performance on Nov. 18 at 2 p.m. which will be American Sign Language interpreted.