The Characterizations in A Piece of My Heart at RLT Are Clear and Emotionally Stirring

Raleigh Little Theatre closes its Sutton Series with a subset series concerning “Women and War,” the first play of which, A Piece of My Heart by Shirley Lauro, based on the 1985 book by Keith Walker, opened Friday, May 5th, in RLT‘s Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre. This has been an infrequently treated aspect of war until fairly recently (except, of course, for a few ancient Greek plays of note, and some plays about Joan of Arc). However, it has become an integral facet of our society’s experience now that those women may be not only be in combat, but may also have families at home as once only men did. Plus, that nuance is multiply nuanced by having both adults of a family deployed with dependents back home, and those adults may also be of the same sex.

A Piece of My Heart is performed by seven actors, six women and one man who performs several male roles. There is a subtle militarism in that, which spreads as each of the women maintains a specific character and also fills in for many other unnamed female roles as is required by the story. The notion of interchangeable parts is also reflected in the use of transport boxes for a variety of purposes.

Scenic designer Elizabeth Newton has constructed a versatile set, consisting of three stark levels, barren as no man’s land, and a backdrop which is a replica of “The Wall,” as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is known, and a huge hung parachute likeness onto which movie screen images from the era are frequently displayed. The actors move the transport boxes around as needed to change scenes.

Sound designer Min Ming Hsu places us in the middle of firefights, bombings, airplane crashes, and other wartime incident noises and sounds with the suddenness of a gun shot, to great dramatic effect. Lighting designer Elizabeth Grimes Droessler achieves equally dramatic results, enhancing the storytelling and plunging us occasionally into blackout as well as the mayhem of a firefight. And Vicki Olson’s costumes reflect the women’s civilian characters, never changing throughout the play, reminding us of their hometown, prewar identities.

<em>A Piece of My Heart</em> stars Jean Jamison as Whitney (photo by Brenna Berry)
A Piece of My Heart stars Jean Jamison as Whitney (photo by Brenna Berry)

Director Mia Self, assistant director of acting and directing at N.C. State University Theatre, moves her characters around precisely and economically; and the play being almost a series of individual monologues, this is necessary. It gives the appearance of choreography, and one may wonder if they ever make a misstep moving both themselves and the transport boxes. The characterizations are clear and emotionally stirring.

Steele, a long-term Army Warrant Officer, whose potential impact on the war would have been enormous if she had been heard by her superiors, and is based on real incidents by a real person, is played with intensity and maturity by Jacquie Deas-Brown. Emily James plays Leeann, a half-Asian girl who had expected to go to Hawaii in the Army, one of the nurses, and a previous war-protester. James puts energy and empathy into her role, caring deeply for her patients, and portrays discomfort with the Army regimen.

Maryjo, a singer in the USO who is touring “The Nam” with her little group, entertaining the troops is handled with élan by Dara Lyon Warner, who sings folksy, pop, and patriotic songs with equal fervor. And Whitney, the Red Cross “donut dolly” from a privileged background, is well-played by Jean Jamison, who adjusts her character’s demeanor to accommodate the rough-and-tumble of warfare and the men who make it all really happen.

Laura J. Parker plays Martha, a Colonel’s daughter who desires to follow in the family tradition and becomes a mentor and comforter for the other women. Sissy, the third nurse, is finely portrayed by Elaine Quagliata who makes Sissy’s intellectualism believable. And Matthew Tucker plays Man, i.e., he plays all the many male roles, constantly reminding us that at this time it is still only men who fight, while the women endure.

A Piece of My Heart is a powerful presentation of a 1991 view of the Vietnam War. There may be little of surprise. War tends always to be war.

RLT's May 5-21 presentation of <em>A Piece of My Heart</em> stars (from left) Elaine Quagliata as Sissy, Jean Jamison as Whitney, and Matthew Tucker as Soldier (photo by Brenna Berry)
A Piece of My Heart at RLT stars (from left) Elaine Quagliata as Sissy, Jean Jamison as Whitney, and Matthew Tucker as Soldier (photo by Brenna Berry)

SECOND OPINION: May 6th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview:; and May 3rd Durham, NC Indy Week preview by Byron Woods:

Raleigh Little Theatre presents A PIECE OF MY HEART at 8 p.m. May 11 and 12, 3 and 8 p.m. May 13, 3 p.m. May 14, 8 p.m. May 18 and 19, 3 and 8 p.m. May 20, and 3 p.m. May 21 in RLT‘s Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.

TICKETS: $24 ($20 students and seniors 62+).

BOX OFFICE: 919-821-3111 or

SHOW: and

2016-17 SEASON:

PRESENTER:,,,, and




NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices are available for all shows. RLT has also installed a hearing loop in the Cantey V. Sutton Theatre.

NOTE 2: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 3 p.m. Sunday, May 14th, performance.

OTHER LINKS: A Piece of My Heart: The Stories of 26 American Women Who Served in Vietnam (1985 book): (Penguin Random House).

The Book (excerpt): (Google Books).

Keith Walker (author): (Google Books).

A Piece of My Heart (1991 play): (Samuel French, Inc.) and (Shirley Lauro’s web page).

The Script (excerpt): (Google Books).

Shirley Lauro (playwright): (official website) and (Internet Broadway Database).

Mia Self (director): (RLT bio), (NCSU bio), and (Facebook page).


Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori previously reviewed theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.