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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper

The Amish Project

Or: Reclamation, the hottest fire.

Do not expect the Amish Project to be an easy pill to swallow. Not that there is anything easy about hearing the tale a husband and father who enter an Amish schoolhouse and shoot ten girls, ages six to ten, before taking his own life. But unlike other tales of unexpected, unwarranted violence (and it seems there are more and more everyday) the play by Jessica Dicky probes not the event itself but the aftermath of a community coming together (or failing to) and the failures of men and women to find peace, forgiveness, or a shred of understanding.

Dicky’s one woman play has been adapted by Benjamin, the plays director to take on seven distinct characters. Each has their own story about their relationship to the Amish community, the killer’s family or to the small but timeless problems of humanity that just happened to be swept up in maelstrom of tragedy. Oddly enough, the amish themselves do not make much of an appearance in the play, only as a silent presence, grieving and surrendering themselves to the fearful healing that must go on. Their ways, and their actions are largely interpreted by Bill North (Lowrie) who like the community he speaks for, clings to faith as he teeters on the edge of faith.

The only amish we do meet are the sisters Velda and Anna (Gelfman and Low), are perfectly guileless girls. Velda is caught up in the past, the joys of life and living simply whilst Anna, explores the hole left by her and her sisters passing. How any one could have looked into their faces as one they said “Sir, shoot me first”, “Sir, shoot me second” , and not turned away is beyond belief. But they are not our focus. No, our collective of stories focus around the victim who truly suffered: Carol (Seldin), wife of Eddie (Kramer) the shooter. A woman without a drop of faith in her own life, Carol is eviscerated when her husband, the only solid thing in her is ripped away, and a the mark of condemnation seeps through her and every happy moment of her life till that fateful day. Seldin plays the slowly decaying victim with as much attention and zeal as she did the avenging angle last season. Looking at her cool mask of “go cuss yourself, America” crumble you don’t know whether to sneer or weep. The sight of her dancing with her husbands ghost, or confronting the victims of families or tearing and scratching and trying to rip herself out of the worlds, will break hearts, whether you think she deserves forgiveness or not.

The issue of Carol’s reclamation is weighed and balanced by Sherry (Kopen) a local housewife and America (Guerra) a smart and wisecracking teen who is following a little to close in her mothers footsteps for comfort. These two weigh and balance our judgment of Carol and Eddie together, whilst coping with their own world shaking troubles.

Benjamin gives his world lots to play with: chalk memorials, eyes in darkness, ever curdling vocabularies of movement, falling laundry, backlight, fore light and traditional amish stories told by flashlight ( a truly brilliant idea that left me spell bound). Set and lighting designers McSweeney and Dalton have outdone themselves with the etherealness of the set (part barn, part field of dreams, part Great Beyond) and visionary lighting that illuminates each corner of the play.

If I am to be honest some of the movement pieces stray towards dragging out issues for the sake of demanding our attention, but some are perfect moments that express what words never could. A word to the wise: the Amish Project is a story about faith, which functions independently of justice. Come prepared to have your belief (or lack of, the shows equal opportunity) twisted, spat upon, and held up mercilessly for your inspection as you see a good man fall into darkness and a good women torture herself with cruelty that would make a demon wince.

Reclamation is no laughing matter, any more than violence is, and if you aren't prepared to sit up in your seat and step into those fires you will leave the theater with your peace of mind shriveled and smelling of char. But if you can lean in and look at the tragedy both national and intimate, if you can “Keep looking” as Dicky advises you, then you may walk out with a heart purged of sorrow and ready to hold your fellow men and women close in these dark times. Enjoy.

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