We’re familiar with graphic war scenes.
We’ve seen them on television news as well as in blood and guts war movies. We’ve heard countless tallies of the dead.
Such reports and sights have a tendency to, over time, numb us to the horrors of war.
To be sure, the award-winning drama about Vietnam, “A Piece of My Heart,” which opened Thursday in Sandusky’s Harlequins Community Theatre, includes graphic descriptions and sound effects of gun shots. But, playwright Shirley Lauro also includes personal, touching, beyond the battlefield moments we may not see on the news or in movies.
Nurses singing Christmas Carols to a young soldier whose legs and arms blew off.
Those same women befriending soldiers during down time, taking their mind off the battle.
A soldier watching helplessly and alone as the women, their tour of duty completed, board an airplane back home.
Lauro’s play is not only an emotional, but an educational experience: Americans might not know that 11,000 American military women were stationed in Vietnam during the war — and many were wounded and eight killed.
“A Piece of My Heart” is based on a book about the real-life memoirs of several nurses who cared for the wounded
None were physically hurt. But, they were emotionally traumatized by the nature of the wounds, their treatment by superiors and their experiences upon returning home.
Lauro vividly portrays the shock and overwhelming feeling these women felt while caring for the war’s injured and dead.
“All doctors and nurses report to emergency,” an urgent voice demands of medical staff during a particularly hectic scene. “Doctors and nurses take your positions immediately!”
Similar commands echo over loudspeakers almost simultaneously, and health care professionals rush to their positions.
“I can’t move, I can’t think!” one of the nurses cries out.
“He’s dead!” a nurse exclaims.
“Cover him, move on, next patient!” a superior demands.
In an earlier scene, we learned that one of the nurses previously couldn’t stand seeing people in pain.
Such details about the characters make us feel for them and want to hear their stories.
There’s MaryJo (Lisa L. Wiley, who speaks in a gentle, southern accent), a blonde, sweet-voiced folk entertainer who dreams of singing for the soldiers; Steele (a commanding and intense Valerie Thames), the iron-willed intelligence informant; Leeann (a spunky Ellie Stuck), an anti-war protester who believes her efforts will support the soldiers; Sissy (an expressive Melinda Bahnsen) a brunette who seeks adventure; Martha (a wide-eyed, heartfelt Jennifer Wertz), a navy nurse who stands proud in her uniform and Whitney (Ann Marie Muehlhauser in an understated performance) a Red Cross volunteer with good intentions.
The story begins after the war, when the women are being recognized for their service. From there, their stories are told in flashback.
Playwright Lauro never portrays these women as saints, but ordinary, hard working and dedicated individuals whose heroism derives from their sacrifices.
So we feel all the more outraged when the characters arrive back in the United States, only to be treated badly by those who disagree with the war and those who fought.
They lose their jobs. They’re demoted. They are shunned. They cannot get answers to questions about Agent Orange.
As angry as we feel about their treatment back home, we feel vindicated during the last scene. By then, the play has come full circle, and the women are being honored at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington for their heroic efforts.
More than one piece of our heart goes out to them.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “A Piece of My Heart,” a drama by Shirley Lauro
WHEN: Today and Sunday as well as Feb. 14, 15, 16 and 17. Performances are at 8:15 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.
WHERE: Sandusky Harlequins Community Theatre, 414 Wayne St., Sandusky.
HOW MUCH: $10 a ticket. Call (419) 626-1157