In Review: The Amish Project

Folksy in all the traditional ways, the first thing I noticed when I entered the theatre was the music. In every song there seemed to be a hymn or a ukulele. Most of the music mentioned community, speaking to the moral of the play — the song that played the clearest was “We Shall Overcome.”

Jessica Dickey&rsquo;s <em>The Amish Project </em>is a one-person play acted by Amy Keating. It follows the experiences of seven characters as they cope and react to the deaths of five young girls at a local Amish school, seemingly murdered in execution style by a local milkman. The characters, so vastly different, are uniquely brought together. The girls&rsquo; gruesome deaths have the greatest impact on the wife of the murderer who, throughout the play, struggles to accept her husband&rsquo;s actions and the forgiveness she receives from the Amish community.&nbsp;

Watching Keating is an interesting experience. She creates a completely unique identity for each of her characters. The little girl who is a victim of the shooter stands out in particular. She jumps across the stage with her handy chalk, drawing her family, classmates, giraffes, and even Jesus. And then, instantly, she becomes a widow, or an angry spectator drilling away at the television. Her body, voice, and accent change into a different person, but the most delicate change is in her hands. As a panicking widow, her hands hang from her meekly, often cradling her head, and in contrast as a young pregnant Hispanic teenager marginally disturbed by the murder, every movement is done with ease and confidence.

Indulging upon the quirks of each character, Dickey and Matt White, the show&rsquo;s director and artistic producer, have managed to add respectful moments of humour. I would have thought finding light humour in such a grim story to be an almost impossible task, especially given that this play is based on an actual school shooting. Yet, as a particular fascination of the little girl, she draws hats on all her drawings, especially her Amish father and Jesus, exclaiming loudly, &ldquo;And this is his hat!&rdquo; while clutching her chalk and blackboard.

As delicately as the characters are handled, their experiences are often jumbled by the grim history surrounding their existence. Keating&rsquo;s switches are perfected by the excellent choices in lighting. A neutral blue wash holding throughout most of the play building into dramatic shadows as the characters are more and more confronted with their loss.

For a production so small, this play manages to confront death in a very intriguing way. Allowing a young child to find greater inner and spiritual peace with her passing than all her adult counterparts. This play is frightening, not because of the gunshots or suicidal undertones, but because it provokes a remarkable amount of empathy in its audience. I can happily say that none of the goosebumps I had after this play came from the cold temperature of the room.


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