Many Vietnam war epics, such as “Apocalypse Now” and “Full Metal Jacket,” focus on the men who served in combat. In Lower Columbia College’s newest production, the war is seen through the perspective of women.
“A Piece of My Heart,” which had its opening performances at LCC over the Memorial Day weekend, tells the stories of six women who were in Vietnam for differing reasons. The play is based on a book of the same name, which is about 26 real women who served in the war.
According to freshman Samantha Cohen, who plays an Army nurse named Sissy, getting into the mindset of war was difficult.
“There’s lots of times where we had to take breaks, had to stop and consider what we were saying, why we were saying it, how we got there,” she said. “(War) is really intense, and we have to portray it not only the way we think it should be portrayed, but the way that it actually happened.”
Sophomore Savannah Zimmerman, who plays USO entertainer MaryJo, said the actors — none of whom have military experience — took a crash course in the brutalities of war.
“War is such a big thing, and you don’t ever know what it’s going to look like,” she said. “People talk about it … but to actually be there is completely different.”
To prepare her actors, Director Betsy Richards brought in a former LCC actor who is in the military as well as a veteran to observe the show and give pointers.
“After he watched the run of the show, he gave us feedback afterwards and said, ‘This is so real,’ ” Zimmerman said. “He said it’s a good thing what we’re doing, and it’s going to be hard for some people to watch.”
Richards said she chose “A Piece of My Heart” for the spring play because of Memorial Day, as well as its feminine perspective.
“This one appealed to me because you don’t see a lot of plays about women’s experience in war. It’s usually the women are at home,” she said.
She also said cast members were up for the challenge of portraying emotionally intense war-related scenes.
“It’s hard stuff. But there’s been tremendous growth in everybody and, it sounds weird to say, but an enthusiasm for it,” she said. “It’s such a serious, very difficult subject, but everybody’s thrown themselves into it.”
Emma Chang, a junior at Mark Morris High School said she was excited to play a character that was half-Chinese, like her: an anti-war U.S. Army nurse. She also praised the show’s complex characters and narratives.
“The stories being told, they’re all very interesting and they’re very powerful,” Chang said. “I’ve never been a part of show that’s quite like this. You can see a lot of depth in all of the characters.”
Sophomore Annika Anderson, who plays a Red Cross worker, said she was able to draw on her grandparents’ and uncle’s experiences in Vietnam for her performance.
“I’ve been spending a lot of time talking with them, and it’s very difficult because they still get emotional about it,” she said. “To me … that made it more realistic and a lot easier to understand and relate to.”
Although she said some scenes might be difficult to watch, Richards encouraged audiences to see “A Piece of My Heart” whether or not they are veterans.
Anderson described the show as “very, very powerful.”
“If anybody leaves this audience not feeling touched in some way, they weren’t paying attention,” she said.