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'A Piece of My Heart' at Corn Stock Winter Playhouse

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It has been well documented through the decades how the war in Vietnam affected the men and boys who fought there in the name of democracy; not only on the field of battle but in their own hometowns after their return.

But while those men and boys left a piece of themselves in southeast Asia — and so, so many left their souls behind as well — the women who volunteered to help the U.S. cause in Vietnam did not go unscathed. They went just as wide-eyed and innocent; they returned just as damaged.

It is the effects of the war on the women that is the subject of “A Piece of My Heart,” a searing drama by Shirley Lauro that opens Friday at Corn Stock Theatre Winter Playhouse in Upper Bradley Park.

The play is a compilation of the stories of 26 American women who went to Vietnam. The characters are nurses, a career Army WAC, a Red Cross worker and an entertainer. The play shows the innocence going in and, in graphic words and expressions, the day that innocence was lost as they faced for the first time the horror of the war.

“This play shows some history of that war that doesn’t get told very often. But it is a part of history that cannot and should not be ignored,” said Amy Williams, who is directing the show that runs Friday and Saturday, Jan. 17 and 18 at 7:30 p.m., then Jan. 24 and 25 at 7:30 p.m. and Jan. 26 at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are $10 for adults and $7 for students and can be reserved by calling the Corn Stock box office at 676-2196.

“Compared with other stories about Vietnam we really hear very little about the women who served there, what they went through. This is a very strong piece about young women who were so innocent about war and were so shocked by what they went through,” said Williams, who is directing an adult play at Corn Stock for the first time. She has directed children’s shows at Corn Stock and she co-directed “12 Angry Men” at Peoria Players last year.

She submitted “A Piece of My Heart” because she’d read it before and was touched by the stories the women shared. “We grew up with the Vietnam War going on and being shown on our television every night but I really came to realize what it was about later. This is, I think, an important play. I hope our audiences will get a good understanding of what these women went through. Our younger audience members may get an important history lesson from it,” Williams said.

She added the process of directing the play has been more enjoyable by the cast of eight people, none of whom are old enough to have been part of the Vietnam era.

“That really has not been a problem because each cast member has really connected with the characters they are portraying. They’ve taken direction well and they are giving their all to the characters. I can’t ask for more than that,” she said.  

The cast includes community theatre veterans as well as newcomers.

Jasmyne Providence, who was impressive in the musicals she performed at Corn Stock’s tent the last two summers (Motormouth in “Hairspray” and Auntie Em in “The Wiz”) tackles the tough, yet tender career soldier Steele in this play.

Mindy Watkins, a native Peorian singer and songwriter, uses her skills as a winger, guitarist and actress in the role of Mary Jo, who comes to Vietnam with the USO to entertain the troops. Watkins’ most recent play was this past summer in “Company.”

Lisa Chamberlain, a veteran on stage and back stage of many shows, portrays Whitney, the Red Cross volunteer who learns the hard way not to give too much of herself while in Vietnam while struggling to maintain a cheerful demeanor for the troops.

Kristen Connor plays Army nurse Sissy, perhaps the most innocent of the bunch before the offensive and other events forced her to grow up quickly. Connor, a real-life nurse in Peoria, is making her Corn Stock debut but performed this year in “Meet Me in St. Louis” at Peoria Players.

Umiko Post is on stage for the first time since high school but takes on the role of Leeann, another nurse who had no idea what to expect when she went to Vietnam. Friends with Sissy before deployment, their determination to stay together got them sent to one of the most troublesome spots in country.

Lorelei Lawson is making her Corn Stock debut in the role of Navy nurse Martha. Her superiors tried to keep her from going to Vietnam because of her lack of experience, but she insisted with no knowledge of what was ahead.

The play has numerous male roles and they are being handled by two actors. They are Alex Larson, who was seen in “Evil Dead” at the Winter Playhouse in the fall and is directing “Superior Donuts” in March; and Ian Munk, a 13-year veteran on the U.S. Army who is making his stage debut. Munk has already served two overseas tours in Kuwait and Afghanistan and will be deployed again later in the year.

Williams said one of the things that makes “A Piece of My Heart” more powerful is that it doesn’t leave off with Vietnam. Rather, the second act of the drama depicts what these women faced when they returned home.

“Post-traumatic stress disorder was a very real thing for them, also. They faced the same types of issues the men did,” she said. “It didn’t end there for anybody.”





About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).