Clayton Community Theatre kicks off its 2011-12 season with Shirley Lauro's A Piece of My Heart, the story of six young women before, during and after their military tours in Vietnam.
Based on Keith Walker's book, A Piece of My Heart: the Stories of 26 American Women Who Served in Vietnam, the play is a poignant drama with a universal story of struggle and survival.
The play opens at the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, on which the names of 58,272 who died in Vietnam are inscribed. Only eight of the names are those of women.
But nearly 10,000 women served in the war in a variety of capacities, mostly as nurses. In the play, three are nurses, one is with the American Red Cross, one is in strategic intelligence with the Women's Army Corp, and one is a country-western singer.
In Act 1, we meet the six women and learn what drew each of them to serve in Vietnam.
“They all have different motivations, but they all have the goal of doing something better,” director Erin Vlasaty said. “It's about how Vietnam wasn't what they were expecting."
One Army nurse thought she would be assigned to Hawaii to care for the wounded there, and the country-western singer thought it would be a boost to her career.
They are in for a rude awakening. Once they arrive, the harrowing reality shatters the idyllic pictures they have created for themselves about war.
The women struggle with the constant stream of wounded soldiers and the impossible working conditions, and each finds some form of solace in booze, pot or the arms of various men. Their experiences are not unlike the soldiers' experiences, and they are subject to many of the same dangers and fears.
Act 2 deals with the next 20 years in the women's lives.
“It's how Vietnam affected them,” Vlasaty said. “How it shaped them. How they dealt with it.” Each bears some emotional scars and problems that affect their lives in significant ways.
“Overall, it's about determination and carrying on,” Vlasaty said. “Ultimately, it's about hope.”
The show continues this weekend. A portion of ticket sales Friday night will be donated to USO Missouri, whose color guard will perform before the play beginning at 8 p.m.WHAT A Piece of My Heart, by Shirley Lauro WHEN 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
WHERE , 6501 Clayton Rd. in Clayton TICKETS $10 to $20. Tickets may be purchased by going to the Brown Paper Tickets website or by calling 314-721-9228.