Director Gary Raymond Fry, Jr., hopes his production of “A Piece of My Heart,” opening Thursday at Prince George’s Community College, helps spark conversation between two generations.
The play, written by Shirley Lauro and based on a novel by the same name, chronicles the experiences of six women involved in the Vietnam War.
“I wanted to create a dialogue between older generations and younger generations,” says Fry, who is an assistant professor and the theater program director at Prince George’s Community College. “I think it’s a story that’s not often told.”
“A Piece of My Heart” unfolds in nonlinear fashion in what Fry describes as a “dream play.”
“We begin in the present and move back in time,” he says. “As we experience flashbacks, we also get commentary from future selves.”
“Every single character is telling their story,” adds Mamie Koroma, a theater major at Prince George’s Community College. Koroma plays Whitney, a polished and refined Vassar graduate who develops a nasty drinking habit during her time in Vietnam as a Red Cross girl.
While each woman tells her own story in “A Piece of My Heart,” she also helps to tell the story of those around her. Each actor in the show portrays multiple characters.
“We’re not always playing our character,” Koroma says. “[Sometimes] we’re playing another character that helps bring somebody else’s past into focus.”
Wanting to bridge the gap between generations, Fry admits, wasn’t his only motivation for staging “A Piece of my Heart.” After directing the college’s last show, a large production of “Macbeth,” Fry says he wanted to do something ”more intimate.” But there were also other, more personal, reasons.
Fry first heard about the novel that the play is based on in a conversation with his mother, a nurse and Vietnam veteran who recently had read the book.
“I started to think that maybe this was something to tackle,” he says.
The timing of the show also seems ideal, as 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the United States’ involvement in Vietnam.
But more than anything, Fry ultimately wanted to “... find [a show] that would educate our students and be rewarding for them.”
“They’re not really familiar with the war or the background that accompanies it,” Fry says. “Not just the war but the social issues ... People [their] age were signing up, becoming nurses and volunteering to go to this other country and be involved in this conflict.”
Fry hopes students can appreciate the realities and sacrifices that accompany war because of their own experiences with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For at least one young actor, this message has been communicated.
“It’s a way to understand what they went through and a little bit relate to it,” says theater major Timothy Andrews.
Andrews plays more than 10 characters in the show, including a young soldier, a disabled veteran and an amputee.
“People have their ideas of why we were over in Afghanistan and Iraq ... it was the same with Vietnam.”
Like Fry, Andrews says he, too, hopes to educate audiences.
“Vietnam helped make citizens like us realize that soldiers deserve the utmost respect,” Andrews says.
“When that generation came back from the Vietnam War, they didn’t come home to a warm welcome,” says Fry, who hopes to give all veterans coming to see his show a very warm welcome; tickets to “A Piece of My Heart” will be free for all veterans.
“I’m hoping it drives home that we need to take care of our veterans,” Fry says.