There is no official count of the women who served in Vietnam, the all-volunteer female enlistees were forced to put an "m" next to their names signifying male. For this reason, there are only estimates of the Vietnam female servicewomen ranging between 10,000-100,000.
Infinite Variety Productions (IVP) (www.infinitevarietynyc.com/) will reprise its production of Shirley Lauro's play, A Piece of My Heart, which is based on the true accounts of women who served in Vietnam, this week at The Vietnam Veterans Plaza in downtown Manhattan. The play, which is based on the book, A Piece of My Heart: The Stories of 26 American Women Who Served in Vietnam by Keith Walker, was first presented by IVP at The Tank Theatre on Veterans Day in 2011.
Ninety-percent of the female Vietnam volunteers were nurses, but others held positions such as intelligence officers, clerks, air traffic controllers or entertainers for all branches of the military. The ensemble embodies the struggles of the naïve enlistees, some highly trained, but still ill-prepared for the conditions that faced them in the make-shift hospitals and barracks of the battlefields. The characters often speak directly to the audience but the effect is never didactic. At one point, so drawn in by the story being told, I was startled by a sound effect. Instead, the remembered images draw you into the horrors endured by the women from the sights, smells and sounds of war, to the discrimination and sexual abuse from male recruits and military brass to the shell-shocked women's valiant attempts to readjust to civilian life back at home where they are greeted with skepticism, condescension or open hostility.
IVP, a not-for-profit, female-focused theater company, whose mission is "dedicated to telling stories of women throughout history," has presented other historical dramas such as this year's These Shining Lives, the story of the women who worked in the radium dial factories in the U.S. in the 1920s and Eclipsed, the story of the Magdalene penitents in Ireland. On Veterans Day weekend this year, November 9th and 10th, IVP will perform A Piece of My Heart at The Women in Military Service for America Memorial in Arlington, Virginia for the twentieth anniversary of The Vietnam Women's Memorial Foundation.
Directed by Norma Medina with a cast which includes Ashley Adelman, Danielle Beckmann, Jake Cullens, Larissa Dzegar, Maria Makenna, Elizabeth McNelis and Petol Weekes, A Piece of My Heart runs October 10, 11 and 12 at 5:30 pm at The Vietnam Veterans Plaza, 55 Water Street in lower Manhattan (rain date is Friday, October 18th at 5:30 pm). The performances are free.
Sandra Kwesi Cameron is a writer who lives in New York City. She has reviewed The New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC) for nytheatre.com.