“This just in: Gunman enters Amish school and opens fire.”
“There’s a fresh hell waiting for you and your sicko husband.”
Imagine this: you attend a play that centers on a community’s reactions to a mass shooting at a school, and you leave the theater feeling strangely uplifted!
PlayMakers Repertory Company’s Jan. 8-12 production of Jessica Dickey’s The Amish Project, currently playing in UNC-Chapel Hill’s Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre as part of PlayMakers Rep’s PRC2 second-stage series, will take you on a roller-coaster ride through the emotional experiences of an entire community as Kathryn Metzger channels seven of its members, each with a story to tell.
First performed at the New York International Fringe Festival in the summer of 2008 and eventually opened Off-Broadway in June of 2009, The Amish Project is based on an actual tragedy, the West Nickel Mines School shooting that took place on Oct. 2, 2006 in Lancaster County, PA, when Charles Roberts IV took 10 young girls hostage in an Amish one-room schoolhouse and shot eight of them, killing five and then taking his own life. The characters that we meet in The Amish Project, however, are Jessica Dickey’s own creations.
The first character that we meet is one of the victims — Velda, a six-year-old picture of innocence and youthful exuberance; it takes less than a minute to realize that we are in the wake of the shooting, and this is Velda’s spirit — after it left her body. Capturing the young girl’s energy and enthusiastic body-language Kathryn Metzger makes us fall in love instantly. (Watch for the poetic description of such things as Velda’s father’s shirt. And note the skillful use of the child’s drawings.)
The play renames the shooter as “Eddie,” a local milkman. We meet him, “Carol” (his disturbed wife), “Sherry” (an outraged woman who accosts Carol in the grocery store), “America” (a 16-year-old pregnant Latina who works in the store), “Anna” (Velda’s older sister), and “Bill North” (a local university professor who has studied Amish culture and who has a story of his own personal tragedy in this community). Kathryn Metzger and director Sarah Elizabeth Wansley deserve immense praise for the deft creation and differentiation of these diverse characters. Especially amazing are the seamless transitions from character-to-character, which at times takes place at lightning speed.
Does Carol blame herself for turning Eddie into a “sicko” (Sherry’s epithet for Eddie)? Are her responses a frantic attempt to undo the tragedy? Watch for transformations in both Carol and America in the wake of Carol’s encounter with Sherry. How will America’s mother react? Watch, also, for descriptions of characters who don’t actually appear onstage. Once again, seeing through the eyes of the innocent Velda is key.
Forgiveness is the play’s theme. The Amish have a reputation for being peaceful, nonviolent people. But how will they react to this senseless violence in their midst? How easy (or hard) will it be for them to stick to their convictions? Where will they find their strength? And how will the greater community react to them and the actions they choose to take?
Scenic designer Samuel Keamy-Minor’s set is effectively sparse, affording movement to and from multiple locations (with the help of an uncredited skilled lighting designer).
Sound designer Jeff Sherwood augments the words and actions of the script nicely. (Note that, in addition to Anna’s crayons and paper, the only prop used is a cigarette.)
PRC2 has chosen a very timely piece. As a society, we must find ways of dealing with tragedies like this.
We heartily recommend this show. Also: do yourself the favor of staying for the post-show discussion!
SECOND OPINION: Jan. 7th Chapel Hill, NC Daily Tar Heel (student newspaper) preview by Elizabeth Sills: https://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2020/01/amish-project-playmakers-0108.
PlayMakers Repertory Company presents THE AMISH PROJECT, written and performed by Jessica Dickey, at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 10 and 11 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Jan. 12 in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre in the Joan H. Gillings Center for Dramatic Art, 150 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.
TICKETS: $35 ($10 UNC students and $12 other students), except all tickets $15 general admission on Community Night at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 12th.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-962-PLAY (7529), firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://playmakersrep.org/box-office/groups-and-special-events/.
VIDEO PREVIEW: http://playmakersrep.org/show/amish-project/#video.
2019-20 SEASON (Legacy Now): http://playmakersrep.org/season/2019-2020/.
PRESENTER: http://www.playmakersrep.org/, https://www.facebook.com/playmakersrep, https://twitter.com/playmakersrep, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PlayMakers_Repertory_Company, and http://www.youtube.com/user/PlayMakersRep.
PRC BLOG (Page to Stage): http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/.
NOTE 1: PlayMakers Rep notes that this show is rated PG-13 “for some language and discussion of both gun violence and sexual assault. Please contact our Box Office if you have any particular concerns.”
NOTE 2: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices will be available at all performances.
NOTE 3: There will audience talkbacks, with cast, crew, and subject-matter experts, after each performance. For details, click here and scroll down.
The Amish Project (2008 one-woman play): http://amishproject.com/ (official website), https://www.concordtheatricals.com/p/479/the-amish-project (Concord Theatricals), and https://www.facebook.com/The-Amish-Project-57414467202/ (Facebook page).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Study Guide: https://issuu.com/milwaukeerep/docs/amish-playguide (Milwaukee Repertory Theater).
Jessica Dickey (Brooklyn, NY playwright and performer): https://www.jessicadickey.com/ (official website), http://playmakersrep.org/artists/jessica-dickey/ (PlayMakers Rep bio), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/jessica-dickey-491239 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1979499/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://www.facebook.com/jessica.dickey.399 (Facebook page).
Sarah Elizabeth Wansley (New York, NY director): http://sarahelizabethwansley.com/ (official website), http://playmakersrep.org/artists/sarah-wansley/ (PlayMakers Rep bio), and https://www.facebook.com/sarah.wansley (Facebook page).
Kathryn Metzger (New York, NY actress): http://kathrynametzger.com/ (official website), http://playmakersrep.org/artists/kathryn-metzger/ (PlayMakers Rep bio), https://www.facebook.com/kathryn.metzger.9 (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/kathrynametzger (Twitter page).
Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.