By Rula Al-Nasrawi & Ashley Glazebrook
Diversity Editor & Diversity Reporter

Six women, one war and an experience they will never forget. From nurses to soldiers to entertainers, the untold stories of American women trapped in a foreign war were presented for Santa Cruz audiences last week in Barnstorm’s production, “A Piece of My Heart.”

Written by Shirley Lauro, the play tells the story of six different women involved in the Vietnam War, the men in their lives, and the conflict’s traumatic aftermath. The play, which ran from Nov. 20 through Nov. 23, provided an insight into the women’s perspective of the adverse time period and the hardships they were forced to endure.

Amineh Helalian, UC Santa Cruz fifth-year and director of the performance, described her directorial adjustments to the play’s previous format.

“In the script it’s written that all of the characters speak out to the audience,” Helalian said. “What I changed seemed to work a lot better — the idea of all the women talking to each other. What I was hoping to do by having the characters talking to each other rather than out to the audience was to give the characters the chance to communicate with each other and help each other live, help each other heal.”

There were seven cast members in total, six females and one male. Each actress played six to 10 different roles, while the male played about 27.

The sole male cast member, fifth-year Yavé Guzmán, explained the difficulty of playing 27 different characters.

“You have to make every character believable, you have to make it real,” Guzmán said. “That was difficult, coming up with 27 different stories and backgrounds. I definitely called on everything I had learned in my training as an actor. I called on vocal structure, called on facial aspects, called on movement, called on thinking differently, breathing differently.”

In terms of preparing for the roles, Guzmán employed the art of observation.

“With 27 different characters, you have to have different body movements and stuff,” Guzmán said. “So I just walked around town and looked at other people. I looked at body movement, hand gestures and facial gestures. Stories from the past.”

Each female character displayed a different background and life story to the audience through detailed reenactments of the Vietnam War and each woman’s unique experience.

Fifth-year Genévieve Brown, a cast member, explained the depth each character encompassed. Her main character, Steele, was the only one of the six women who actually served in the military.

“I thought my character was kick-ass,” Brown said. “[Steele] doesn’t let her guard down, which is cool.”

Each woman had a different culture and story. From a half-Japanese ex-hippie to a black official to an Ivy League nurse, “A Piece of My Heart” provided numerous different perspectives of the war.

Brown described the important aspects of the performance as a whole.

“It’s just weird how you serve your country and they drop you,” Brown said. “‘Piece of My Heart’ is about those people that were forgotten.”

While the play was an exhibition of stories, it also provided an outlet for the suppressed female victims to get their personal accounts out into the public.

“One of my favorite lines in the play talks about how the government didn’t keep any official lists of women that were over there because they didn’t want to admit that they put women in danger,” Helalian said. “Because of that there were no outreach groups, women weren’t allowed to contact each other and their stories remained untold, so they weren’t allowed to heal.”

Audiences reacted strongly to the performance.

“We got overwhelmingly positive responses about the play,” Helalian said. “I think everyone came away with something a little bit different. People who had personal experiences before got quite emotional. I think women were very strongly affected by it because it had such a strong feminine cast to it.”

Brown discussed the main lesson audiences should learn from the production.

“Just to educate,” Brown said. “As long as you learn something, it brings your life so much flavor. To understand that, you know, not only men but women go to war.”

Helalian said that there is not one central message of the play.

“I am a great believer that as an artist, I’m not here to be on a soapbox,” she said. “I’m not creating a work for an audience to take a specific message off of. I really want people to think about the problems. My job is not to create a solution but just to get people to think about the problems, the idea of talking about it. My main goal was just to tell the stories and I hope everyone took away something different.”