The stories of women who were involved in the Vietnam War effort will be told on a Columbus State University stage this weekend.
The play, “A Piece of My Heart,” adapted by Shirley Lauro, is based on Keith Walker’s book of the same name which featured interviews of 26 women who served as nurses, Red Cross volunteers and members of the USO.
The CSU performance, which opens tonight, gives the audience a glimpse into the lives of these women before, during and after the war.
Kizzy Louis, 30, is the oldest cast member of the play. Though she was born five years after the fall of Saigon in 1975, Louis said this play has special meaning for her.
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Louis, an Army veteran who spent seven months in Afghanistan in 2002, said being in this play is her way of giving back.
“This play gives a voice to women in the military,” she said. “It is an honor for me to be on this stage.”
McGraw said she chose to direct “A Piece of My Heart” because the stories of these women are mostly unknown.
“These are unsung heroes,” she said. “I never knew about them.”
McGraw said she and the cast did a lot of research online and were surprised to discover that these women did not carry weapons.
“They were unarmed and under fire,” McGraw said. “They had to depend on themselves” to stay alive.
She wants to make sure that the play shows the dignity of these brave women.
The only man
Taylor K. Cox is the only man in the CSU cast. He plays all 23 male roles, which range in age from 18 to 50.
While at age 21, he’s comfortable playing the young soldiers, it was tougher playing the older men.
“I act like my Dad,” he said. “It is a bit of a challenge.”
Stephanie Nimmo, who plays a nurse, also looked to a parent for help. Nimmo’s mother, who’s a nurse, helped her daughter learn to pronounce medical terms.
Heather Willis was in the cast of this play when Columbus High School won the state one-act competition. The difference this time, she said, is the cast is small — just seven. In high school, instead of one male actor, there were several, she said.
A freshman speaks out
Abby Blankenship, an 18-year-old freshman, said she feels overwhelmed, but she said the others have been supportive and compassionate.
She plays a USO performer and had to learn to play the guitar, along with her understudy, Jordan Demers, also a freshman.
Blankenship said the instructors at Gorilla Guitars on Broadway were very patient with her and Demers.
The military connection
Cox’s father served in Vietnam, as did Maggie Hoffman’s grandfather.
Cox said he has come to realize that Vietnam is still a touchy subject. It seems “we didn’t win or lose,” he said. “We just left.”
McGraw said the images that the actors present are often intense and recommends that parents be aware of adult material. It’s not for young children.
Freshman Alex Yebra said she’s gained a new respect for soldiers. That is a sentiment shared by all the cast.
Willis and Nimmo have even experienced vivid dreams about their characters.
On Feb. 19, the cast will give a special performance at Fort Benning’s Kelley Hill Recreation Center.
Director Rebecca McGraw is looking forward to the performance, which she hopes will help bolster a relationship with Fort Benning. CSU already presents its annual children’s play at elementary schools on post.