Absorbing & Intense, Extremely relevant,
Thought-provoking, Unusually terrific acting
See it if
You're up for a riveting, touching & intense evening of bravura performances from an amazing female ensemble (plus 1 male) superbly directed.
Don’t see it if
Sharp, real & raw honesty onstage is too disturbing, or if opinions of 'Nam and/or women—in life, in war—are set in stone. By all means, go.
True stories of women signing up to serve in Viet Nam in the 60’s may not sound like everyone’s cup of tea, but Little Spoon, Big Spoon’s production of A Piece of My Heart at the IATI on 4th Street is more than worth the trip downtown. Even though the script, written by Shirley Lauro in the 90’s, runs from archetype to stereotype pretty quickly, the sharp focus here is on the performances, which give so much life and momentum to the evening, little else is noticed.
It’s rare to see a group of actors so uniformly good, gifted and evenly cast, and even more rare to witness the amount of honesty coming off that stage. This is the seldom seen example of an entire company attacking a script and through conviction, passion and talent, fulfilling not only its promise, but its intent.
A true ensemble, it’s impossible to single out any single performer. Chelsea Smith, Samantha Aneson, Randa Karambelas, Marlowe Holden, Sue Kim, and Reese Antoinette bounce off each other constantly, creating layered performances that evolve over the course of the evening, each having her moment, and Danny Grumich contributes a solid presence as the Every Man.
In an emotional evening that’s at times funny, searing, intense and even uncomfortable, each character runs the gamut from wide-eyed innocence to disillusionment, depression, PSTD, drug use and finally through to self-awareness and empowerment — and each actress dives in fearlessly and convincingly, showing amazing range. When Chelsea Smith’s Martha at last says "a piece of my heart dies with each of them," it tears to the core.
As would the ending, but for the drawn-out, needless repetition of acting out action read and described only moments before; the very long version of America ably sung by Ms. Aneson; the placing of objects on the Wall. It’s the only false note in an evening otherwise smoothly directed by Reesa Graham, but it’s a note — feeling almost forcibly attached — that seems determined to show us the final tableau even if it undercuts, rather than underlines the otherwise emotional momentum of everything that’s come before.
Nevertheless, this is fine work by an amazing cast of women that should be widely seen, a labor of love and necessity that brings to life a story way overdue in the telling. Over a quarter of a million women served in Viet Nam, gave of themselves, suffered and died, just as their male compatriots; the only difference was that they volunteered to be there. That this is news to most of us is unconscionable, as is the fact that the issues of sexism and racism against women that occurred there and then 50 years ago are sadly more relevant and with us today than ever.
Little Spoon, Big Spoon Productions, founded by Chelsea J. Smith and Randa Karambelas, is a socially conscious company that posits art is a way to change the world; it’s a sure thing that bit by bit, with productions such as this, it can and will.
© René Grayre All rights reserved