The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' numbers on the women who served in Vietnam are sketchy at best. We know nine military nurses and 58 female civilians were killed, but then things hit a gap. It's estimated that in the 14 years of American involvement, 7,500 to 15,000 females worked alongside roughly 2.7 million men, about 58,000 of whom would either give their lives or go missing in one of modern civilization's colossal military-industrial charades.
We also know these women were overwhelmingly medical personnel and, of course, that they were volunteers. Maybe that's what Shirley Lauro had in mind when she wrote A Piece of My Heart, Mo'olelo Performing Arts Company's current production, as if optional service made the women's motives more altruistic than the guys'. But whatever her intent, the play's genderism never really registers despite some good performances. Much less does it shed light on women's sacrifice in the country's longest war ("longest" because, for many, it'll never really end).
Lauro's 1988 text echoes those of Bertolt Brecht, who used monologues and firsthand accounts in his Marxist debates on the virtues of the laboring class. Exceedingly blunt speeches worked for him, and against the austere wartime background, they work for Lauro.
But while the six women in A Piece of My Heart face the same frustrations as their real-life male opposites, they seem to respond in the same way the men do. The military bureaucracy (embodied by a great Lance Arthur Smith in multiple roles); the physical butchery recounted by game little Leeann (an invaluable Seema Sueko); the aftereffects of sexual assault; battlefield flashbacks; postwar concerns about exposure to Agent Orange: Lauro and director Siobhan Sullivan fail to color it all with a female perspective. "Men made this war!" one of the girls shrieks-but by then, the show has plastered a pretty face on an unremarkable routine.
The brisk tech stuff extends past the play-the intermission music bed includes Martha and the Vandellas' Vietnam-era hit "Nowhere to Run," which recently edged out Gustav Mahler's Resurrection symphony as the most sublime piece of performance art in recorded human history. Man, if Ho Chi Minh or Richard Nixon had stopped for one goddamn minute to listen to those amazing rimshots at the beginning of the song, the war would've been over and done before lunch.
No such luck. The tent wouldn't fold on this circus until 1973, with America's pitiable stump of a tail resting deservedly between its legs. Twenty years later, the Vietnam Women's Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C. The statue shows a wounded soldier with one nurse giving comfort, another kneeling in thought and a third anxiously looking skyward. Her mouth is open, as if she's alerting evac transport to her position. But amid its silence, her cry is indistinguishable from that of her male counterparts. A Piece of My Heart leaves a lot of the same unimpression.
This review is based on the opening-night performance of Oct. 21. A Piece of My Heart runs through Nov. 6 at the Veterans Museum and Memorial Center, 2115 Park Blvd., Balboa Park. $15-$20. 619-342-7395 or email@example.com.
The chintz of L.A.
There's still time to catch the Old Globe Theatre's The Prince of L.A. The challenge is figuring out what to do with it.
The play, based on the sex and fiscal scandals that have rocked the modern Roman Catholic Church, delivers insights into the people responsible for them-but it never suggests that the Church has learned its lessons accordingly or, indeed, whether it ever will. There's a hollow feeling to the principals' regrets; they read like those of a repeat drug offender who has a handle on only the problem and is worlds away from the solution.
The theater, as Matthew Mark Luke Cardinal John (Dakin Matthews, who also wrote the play) indicates throughout the show, is a terribly public phenomenon. It's too bad we can't say the same about Matthews' terribly private setting.
The Prince of L.A. runs through Oct. 30 at the Old Globe's Cassius Carter Centre Stage. $19-$55. 619-23-GLOBE.