HCC play brings letters, poems from Vietnam Veterans Memorial to life

December 03, 1992|By Patrick Hickerson | Patrick Hickerson,Contributing Writer

The Outback Theatre at Howard Community College will attempt to build an emotional bridge tonight between the written and spoken word, providing a dramatic setting for an adaptation of the book "Shrapnel in the Heart" to the stage.

The performance in the theater, a venue designed this year for avant-garde productions in a more intimate location than the college's Smith Theatre, will mark Student Fine Arts Night at HCC.

"Shrapnel in the Heart," written by Laura Palmer in 1986, is a compilation of poems and letters left at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington and gathered by the National Park Service.

The one-act performance tonight and tomorrow night, directed and adapted for the stage by HCC faculty member Barbara Brickman, is both an adaptation of the book and a tribute to "the wall."

Ms. Brickman said the message of her play is showing the medium that the memorial plays.

"My message is that the memorial is a bridge between the living and the dead," Ms. Brickman said. "The bridge is the love for these people that never dies. The wall is the place to express that love."

The eclectic production includes photographs of people at the memorial by Michael Katakis of Lansdowne, Pa., and a featured song, "Facing the Wall," by Susan Graham White of Port Republic, who has performed at the Folkal Point in Hobbit's Glen. Choreography was created by Dawn Barnes, also of the HCC faculty.

"I was so moved by the book. I was crying. I had to put it down. I couldn't take it all in," Ms. Brickman said.

Ms. Brickman divided the play into four sections, selecting 17 monologues from the book with varying emotions that are read by actors, many of whom are amateurs who are HCC students. Short dance pieces were added for almost every section. The cast is 22 actors and dancers.

"I've acted for years and directed plays, but I've never put together a dramatic production like this," Ms. Brickman said. "It's still being woven. It's a tapestry."

In a telephone interview from her office in New York City, where she works as a free-lance producer and director for CBS News, Ms. Palmer said she wasn't surprised that her book has been adapted for the stage three times.

The HCC production is the second such effort after the University of Wisconsin; a theater in Chicago is scheduled to open another stage version Jan. 13. "I think it's a natural for the theater. It's a book of voices. The theater is a natural way of presenting it," Ms. Palmer said. "I always thought it had theatrical potential."

Ms. Palmer, who plans to see one of the Columbia performances, said this production in a college setting is a good idea.

"I think it's a good way for younger audiences to understand the pain of the Vietnam War," she said. "For the next generation the force of this material is of extreme importance."

Lorretta Rockwell, 27, a theater major and assistant in the registration office at HCC who will read one of the monologues, said her experience with the play has been a study in emotion and empathy.

"As each person does their thing, you try to keep yourself together," she said. "They wanted us to see [the wall] before the performance. I haven't been there to touch it myself. To tell you the truth, I don't know if I could handle it."

Howard Community College's Student Fine Arts Night will begin today at 6 p.m. with an art gallery reception, showcasing drawings, paintings and photographs. Refreshments will be served. A musical recital by HCC students will begin at 7 p.m. in the Smith Theatre. "Shrapnel in the Heart" will begin at 8 p.m. in the Theatre Outback with a Friday performance at the same time. Free. 964-4940.

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