Stage and Cinema film and theatre reviews
 

 

FORGIVING THE HORRIBLE

 

picture - The Amish ProjectTheater Review

by Cindy Pierre

published June 19, 2009

 

The Amish Project

now playing Off Broadway at the Rattlestick Theater

through June 28

 

If, according to English poet John Dryden, you should use “reason to rule but mercy to forgive: the first is law, the last prerogative,” is it ever wrong to forgive, or possible to forgive too quickly?  The Amish don't think so.  Because they take cues from the Bible, forgiveness is a staple of their daily culture, even if the outside world doesn't like it or understand.  One such incident that had the world and the media in an uproar is explored respectfully and earnestly in Jessica Dickey's The Amish Project.  In this compelling one-woman show, Dickey morphs into multiple, fictitious characters to discuss the Nickel Mines shooting on October 2, 2006.  Whether you believe in the power of forgiveness or not, there's plenty of material here to convince you that Dickey is a charismatic performer.

 

Back from the 2008 New York International Fringe Festival, The Amish Project's revival at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater succeeds in being both simple and complex at the same time.  Lauren Helpern's set and costume design allow this simplicity to be accentuated in a remarkable way, and her dual roles help to streamline all of the visuals.  From the plain dress and bonnet to the neutral-colored chair used as the sole prop, there's no mistaking that you've entered a land without vanity.  Window frames, not panes, of the same neutral hue suspend from the ceiling, reflecting a communal attitude of having nothing to hide while representing the skeleton of the one-room schoolhouse where the executions took place.

 

Juxtaposing the images are Dickey's portrayals, ranging from the gunman who murdered the children and then committed suicide to child and adult members of the community.  Almost every character demonstrates that Dickey is a chameleon, with the exception of the Puerto-Rican supermarket checkout  girl.  Although this character is played with almost the right gestures and is a delight to watch, the tone of her voice is off and doesn't work well with the accent.  Still, Dickey's commitment to re-enacting  the aftermath of this event is spurred on by an honest desire to make sense of what transpired.  Her sense.  Under Sarah Cameron Sunde's smart direction, Dickey uses the entire space of the modest stage, traveling through rooms and time.  Aside from instances where she stands motionless with her back facing the audience or when she walks in slow-motion to denote character or scene changes, nothing slows down the pacing of this well-executed, 75-minute production.

 

Poignant and engrossing, The Amish Project may not be a literal re-telling of the events, but it's full of moments that may help you empathize with those that were affected by the incident.  Dickey may not be Amish herself, but she treats her subject matter as if it were her very own family's, and her strong research shows.  Forgiveness may be a debatable topic for many, but The Amish Project and Dickey's performance leave a small margin for argument: they're both simply terrific.

 

cindypierre @ stageandcinema.com

 

photograph by Geoff Green

 

 
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