In The Amish Project, playwright Jessica Dickey explores not only the themes of unconditional forgiveness and compassion but also the complicated responses that are evoked by an inexplicable act of violence. The play is a fictionalized drama inspired by the 2006 Nickel Mines schoolhouse shooting of 10 Amish girls (five died) with the emphasis on the aftermath and the experience of trauma by various members of the Lancaster County community.
This one-act show requires a solid solo performance by an actor who can convincingly navigate among seven very different characters. During the recent production at PlayMakers Repertory Company, Kathryn Metzger delivered just that in an exceptionally captivating way. Under the precise direction of Sarah Elizabeth Wansley, Metzger swiftly and effectively transitioned from the playful innocence of the young Amish girls to the convoluted visceral feelings of others in the community impacted directly and indirectly by the tragedy. Metzger rendered each individual, from the gunman to his wife, to a young Latina woman, with distinct physical gestures and vocal mannerisms. Compelling narrative conveyed through imagined monologues creates an emotionally powerful show.
Costume Designer Jennifer Clark worked with an Amish community member from Chautauqua, NY to create a traditional dress and head covering for Metzger. As designed by Samuel Keamy-Minor, the sparse set of three separate panels of a wall with divided windows served as a constant reminder of the Amish schoolhouse. Minimal props echoed the Amish way of living.
Perhaps what makes this story even more complex, as well as heart-wrenching, is the way in which the Amish reacted to the horrific event. Instead of condemning the killer, who took his own life, they reached out to his wife and family. For the Amish, forgiveness is an ongoing commitment that reflects their faith in God’s will. So when they extended that unconditional forgiveness to the wife of the shooter, it became a subject of both solace and controversy within the community. All the same, the Amish response to the events in 2006, is truly transformative and exposes the difficult path of forgiveness and compassion that is needed to preserve our faith and humanity.
The Amish Project closed January 12th. Next up at PlayMakers is Everybody, which opens January 22nd. For more information visit: http://playmakersrep.org/show/everybody/ or the RDU on Stage Calendar Page.