A Piece of My Heart, Circle Theatre.

It’s been 20 years since the fall of Saigon, and despite the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the public record of that contested war is still dominated by accounts of protests and embittered memoirs of behind-the-scenes dirty politics. Yet stories of women veterans, nurses, and other volunteers are rare, so Circle Theatre has performed a public service by producing A Piece of My Heart, Shirley Lauro’s 1991 adaptation of women’s oral histories of Vietnam from Keith Walker’s book.

Although director Greg Kolack sometimes pushes his actors into melodramatic excess, they do generate a passionate if uneven intensity that makes their interwoven stories moving and memorable. Kelly Balzli gives the most effective performance, maintaining a veneer of calm, a wall of efficiency, behind which we glimpse moments of extreme suffering. It’s refreshing to find roles of such depth and passion, demanding such authority and control, for women. Each character tells her story directly to the audience, negotiating explosions of repressed emotion and haunting memories while maintaining a sense of the ensemble’s community.

These compellingly blunt ac-counts of death, love affairs, and confrontations with authority are all the more dramatic because they’re true–revelations from a lost but vital history. Veterans in the audience laughed, grunted, and bellowed in recognition throughout the evening. In fact, last Saturday local vets presented the cast with POW bracelets commemorating Vietnam nurses. These are stories–and characters–long overdue in the history books, and worthy of the stage.