Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company’s production of The Amish Project is the kind of play that certain people may stay away from for they deem the subject matter to be too depressing. Despite the material, you should give the drama a chance, because it provides for a profoundly moving experience.
The Amish Project is loosely based on a school shooting that happened in the community of Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, on October 2, 2006. That is when a crazed milk truck driver, Charles Roberts, shot 10 young Amish school-girls, resulting in the death of five of them. Following the shootings, as the police responded, Roberts took his own life. The plot is about the aftermath of the horrific tragedy, and how the people in Nickel Mines reacted to the incident.
The theatre piece is a one-woman show and requires an actress to convincingly play seven extremely different characters. Fortunately for us, Iliana Carter was cast as the star.
She plays the roles so memorably, that all of them leave a lasting impression. These personas include two young school girls, a teenage, pregnant, Puerto Rican grocery store clerk and the killer himself, renamed Eddie Stuckey. Carter does a lot vocally, as well as physically, to authentically portray the individuals.
With a lesser actress, the audience might have preferred the work to have focused exclusively on one person affected by the massacre. Instead, this concern does not arise since each story act has a powerful payoff due to Carter’s committed performance and Jessica Dickey’s strong writing.
The most haunting one to be fleshed out is Carol Stuckey, the wife of the gunman. Carter depicts the widow as such a depressed and heartbroken soul that the audience cannot help but be empathetic towards her situation. Carter does not shy away from Carol’s growing depression, and she is all the more sympathetic for showing that side of the widow.
Dickey’s script is lyrical at times, capturing the beauty of everyday life. Repetition is occasionally used to add dramatic tension, which can be tough to stomach.
Another effective aspect of Dickey’s prose is her ability to make The Amish Project a universal tale. The way that the townspeople of Nickel Mines react to the shooting is similar to how any community would handle the situation. The men and women that Carter depicts have completely different reactions as they try to come to terms with the unjustified crime.
My only issue with Dickey’s text is that, in the opening, it takes a couple of moments to figure out why some of the citizens are essential to The Amish Project. While it was probably done to create a sense of mystery, it temporarily keeps one from being emotionally invested in the narrative. Once it becomes clear as to everyone’s significance, it is easier to appreciate and get absorbed by the dialogue.
Founding Artistic Director of Moxie Theatre, Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, primarily directs The Amish Project as an acting piece for Carter. However, she effectively incorporates Jason Bieber’s potent lighting design and David F. Weiner’s unvarnished scenic design.
Having the set be comprised of only the simple one-room schoolhouse, where the atrocity occurred, is both memorable and unsettling.
Even though The Amish Project is about a horrible act committed by a deranged gunman to innocent children, the theatrical work playing at the 10th Avenue Theatre is deep, impactful and sincere. Albeit draining at times, the inspirational message of forgiveness rings true.