There are too many tears in Academy’s ‘Heart’

“A Piece of My Heart” has a lot of built-in traps, and the Las Vegas Academy of International Studies, Visual and Performing Arts falls in nearly all of them.

Shirley Lauro’s docudrama (suggested by the Keith Walker book) has what feels like a unique point of view. A USO entertainer, a Red Cross volunteer, an intelligence officer and three nurses are serving time in the Vietnam War. The women quickly get the wind knocked out of them as they learn the realities of day-to-day life. The big surprise, though, is the malice that greets their return home. Lauro’s script shows us on a personal level why many of these heroes could not make the adjustment to civilian life.

What goes wrong in Melissa Lilly’s production is so basic it never should have happened. There are simply too many tears in the director’s eyes. The show overflows with the kind of passion that makes you want to take cover.

In one scene that takes place in a self-help group, every single member who stands up and speaks about the war cries, quivers, yells and flails her arms. This isn’t how self-help group attendees act. It’s how actors act. In real life, the most dramatic things are often said in the most undramatic ways. The lack of modulation to all this touchy-feely stuff is exhausting. The characters come across as emotions instead of people.

Although Lauro’s script is better at explaining situations than creating characters, it’s obvious things could have worked if we got to believe in these women as professionals; women who attempt (and at times fail) to hide their rage and keep a healthy distance from the horrors around them. But Lilly doesn’t seem to trust the script. She imposes a level of sentiment insulting to those who don’t appreciate having their tear ducts manipulated in such formalistic ways.

The acting (the show is double cast; I saw Cast A) tends toward caricature and generic angst. But Nicola Carreon manages to suggest genuine life beneath her fervor, and Teresa Hopkins understands the power of subtlety. She’s a magnetic, statuesque presence.

I’d love to see a rehearsal of this show in which no actor is allowed to hug or cry or scream. That might be one way for a cast to discover those few moments that demand hysteria and the depth beneath the often unexpressed feelings that justifies it.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at DelValle@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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