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A Piece of my Heart -- this should be a rave instead you get a rant

Dylan Brody - Saturday, May 25, 2013

               My review of A Piece of My Heart, a two act play by Shirley Lauro produced by the Los Angeles New Court Theater should be a rave.  The script, a tightly woven series of character-driven vignettes revolving around women who served in Viet Nam, provides a stirring, painful and shocking look at the horror of the wartime experience.  The piece condemns war not through didactic language or lecture but through simple revelation of the tragic, brutal wrongness to which it subjects those who face it.  This is a good thing for a play to do.  This is a good thing for people to see and hear and remember.  The play touches on issues of race, of gender, of control, of deceit. The first act takes the women, nurses and USO performers from their pre-enlistment thoughts of service and personal empowerment into the impossible, terrifying grotesquerie of the war zone, the blood soaked medical units, the stages set up before ranks of homesick soldiers, the constant danger and desperate revelry of day-to-day survival.  The second act examines the post-war treatment of these female veterans, their return to a nation split over the issue of peace, the casual dismissal by the military of their lingering physical and emotional injuries, their difficulties in returning from the battlefield to a culture that demands they fill expected roles, roles that make no sense to women who have seen what they have seen, done what they have done.  This is a good and worthy play about the need to move beyond war, to see war as the glamorless, horrific waste that it is by its very nature.

               Director Becca Flinn handles the direction of this complex and deliberately disjointed play beautifully, creating transitional devices and scenic shifts that allow the scenes to flow from one to the next without breaks for scene-setting.  The rhythm of the production never lags.

               The cast, all young women and one young man who plays every male role – the grunts, the wounded, the brass, the civilian in a bar all become as much a singular blur as the boys who cross the nurse’s tables and the audience members of the touring USO singer must, all the same face like a recurring nightmare – move through character transitions, support one another and find unexpected laughs and painful pathos in a script they all seemed to me to be too young to be capable of grasping.  They stretched into difficult and uncomfortable emotional territory with the apparent effortlessness that can only mean they are all really doing their work as artists and they took us with them from the opening moment to the final candle-light imagery.

 A woman sitting near me in the audience wept openly.

This is a good play, a fine production and it is performed gorgeously.

Clearly my review should be a rave.

FOR TICKETS AND SHOW RUN DETAILS GO HERE:  http://www.lanewcourttheatre.com/Los_Angeles_New_Court_Theatre/Season.html The show is well worth seeing!

I left the theater, though, very angry.  Before the play – as is often the case in small theaters – the director stood up to thank everyone for coming and to talk about how proud she is of the work and the cast.  The assistant director joined her to make announcements about turning off cell phones and how long the intermission would be.  Then she went on, this assistant director, to add some personal comments.  She spoke briefly about how important it is that we honor our veterans and meet their needs.  Yes.  Agreed.  A thousand times yes.  She wasn’t done.  She got choked up as she went on to spout the oft uttered but rarely questioned or challenged or even considered trope about how our veterans sacrifice their lives and limbs for our freedom and our happiness and that for this we owe them a debt of gratitude.

I cannot begin to express how wrong-headed and downright offensive I find this young woman’s mouthing of pro-military cliché before the performance of a play that is so carefully designed with intent to break down the sanitized, romanticized notions of what it means to serve one’s country.

Yes. Of course our veterans should be treated well, their needs met.  So should our homeless, our sick, our mentally ill, the victims of bank foreclosure and natural disaster and industrial accidents.

We do not protect freedom by killing people or by allowing our servicemen and women to be killed.  We protect freedom by building a society that does not incarcerate more people per capita than any other nation in the world.

We do not protect happiness by killing people or allowing our servicemen and women to be killed.  We protect happiness by creating and maintaining a culture in which people feel they are valued more than property, they have greater value than the profit they can help generate.

What those who have served in times of war tell us time and again, when they are not too traumatized to tell us anything, is this: War is bad; it is ugly; it is incomprehensibly horrific. It damages the bodies and the minds of all who are directly exposed to it. It should be avoided at all costs.

 I have never heard a veteran speak to a young person and say, “You should go to war. That will be a noble and beautiful way to protect the freedom and happiness of the people who do not go.”  The only people who speak in those terms are those who live within the safety of their borders and wish to silence their own guilt by projecting honorable intentions onto those who fight, honorable motives onto those in command. 

Those who fight know that there is no honor on the battlefield, no noble intentions, no freedom or happiness being preserved.  There is death, dismemberment, blood, fear, urine, stench, mud, rage and the systematic dehumanization of the enemy by the soldiers and the soldiers by the brass.  War requires, by its very nature, a break from the most basic tenets of the social contract.  “Thou shalt not kill,” is out the window. Once that goes, all is fair game and once the social fabric is shredded the truth becomes apparent. Soldiers realize quickly that they do not fight for what they thought they would be fighting for. They fight not for the freedom of their families but for their nation’s political or economic interests, not for the safety of those back home but for the security of a corporation’s oil holdings or the ideals of a religious fanatic or the revenge fantasy of a second-generation politician.

To preface a beautiful play about the ugly truth with an ugly lie about a beautiful myth offends me to my core.  If my freedom and happiness depended on the atrocity of war, the price would be too high.  But it doesn’t matter, because that is part of the lie we’ve been told for so long that we forget to question, to challenge, to consider.  War cannot continue once we acknowledge that humanity, all of humanity, is of greater value than any property.

The play I saw tonight held the truth. I wish they hadn’t allowed that young woman to come out first and spout the very lies it sought to debunk.

The rich and powerful decide that something is worth killing for and then go about convincing the desperate and frightened that it is worth dying for. Let’s try to remember that on Memorial Day, as we mourn the fallen.

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