On Stage: 'A Piece of My Heart' opens at USCB Center for the Arts

features@beaufortgazette.comMay 14, 2014 

The cast of "A Piece of My Heart," are, front row, from left, Margy Oehlert, Maria Combess and Carol Miller; middle row, Kay Owen, Eddie Watson, Joellen Hirschey and Anne Helm; and back row, Karl Wells, Heather Szeder, Jill Sheldon and Jessica Lopes

CAPTURED MOMENTS PHOTOGRAPHY

Director: Gail Westerfield

Lead actors: Maria Combess, Anne Helm, Joellen Hirschey, Jessica Lopes, Carol Miller, Margy Oehlert, Kay Owen, Jill Sheldon, Heather Szeder, Eddie Watson and Karl Wells

The plot: "A Piece of My Heart" is based on a collection of interviews with 26 women who served in Vietnam. The play centers on three nurses of varying degrees of experience, a career military intelligence officer, a Red Cross "Donut Dolly," and a young singer touring with a USO show. Through monologues and scenes, the women are seen as they were before, during and after the war.

The story behind the show: "Last fall, I was having lunch with some friends," Westerfield says, "including a woman named Margee, who asked me what I was directing next. And I said, 'A neat play about women who served in Vietnam.' She replied, 'Oh, "A Piece of My Heart"?' And shocked, I said, 'Yeah. That's kind of an obscure bit of theater knowledge.' And she told me her sister, Pat, a retired nurse who lives in California, is in the book. I immediately teared up, and we called Pat on speaker from the restaurant. I'm still not really over this coincidence.

"Records weren't kept about the number of women who served in Vietnam; it's presently thought to be about 11,000, and the chances that I would know one of the 26 women in the original text must be infinitesimal. Both of the sisters will be at the play opening weekend, though Pat has repeatedly insisted that I not make a big deal about her being there."

Director's take: "This is a powerful drama, and I cried during the auditions and at nearly every rehearsal since," Westerfield says. "It is also really funny at times, I promise. The music is also fantastic, and some of it is live, even. ... These characters are based on real people -- including a woman who predicted and tried to warn U.S. military brass about the Tet Offensive and was ignored, which led to the deaths of thousands -- and I am just overwhelmed with pride at what we're doing."

Behind the scenes: "Louise Trask, our costumer, ordered us all dog tags, on which we could put anything we wanted: character information, as on real dog tags, or whatever. We haven't gotten them yet, but it may be the thing we're most looking forward to, other than opening night."

Run dates: 7:30 p.m. May 15, 16 and 17; and 3 p.m. May 18 and 25

Location: University of South Carolina Beaufort Center for the Arts, 801 Carteret St., Beaufort

Tickets: $22 for adults; $20 for seniors and military and $15 for students. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Vietnam Women's Memorial Foundation, which, among other things, is working to find women who served in the war in all kinds of capacities and collect their stories. To honor area military and veterans and their families, tickets will be $15 (with ID) for the May 15 show.

Details: www.beaufortcenterforthearts.com, 843-521-4145

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