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The Amish Project
by Jessica Dickey
Directed by Deanna Jent
Mustard Seed Theatre
August 28, 2015

Amy Loui Photo by John Lamb Mustard Seed Theatre

Amy Loui
Photo by John Lamb
Mustard Seed Theatre

Mustard Seed Theatre has begun their new season with The Amish Project. It’s an intense, thought-provoking drama that takes a real life event and makes it the centerpiece for reflections on faith, suffering, and the power of forgiveness. At the core of this production is a remarkable multi-layered performance by its lone performer, Amy Loui.

The shooting at an Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania made headlines in October, 2006 for the horrific tragedy of the event itself as well as for the community’s response of forgiveness toward the shooter.  In The Amish Project, playwright Jessica Dickey has taken the basics of that event but has fictionalized many of the details. Names have been changed and some situations have been imagined for the play. Amy Loui, clad in a simple Amish woman’s dress, apron and bonnet, performs all the roles. The play is structured in a non-linear style, as various characters tell their stories and  react to the events. The idea appears to be to focus more on the concepts and emotions rather than the particulars of history, as this becomes a powerful emotional exploration of the mystery of faith and forgiveness among a group of people who are seen as outsiders in American culture.

The story is clearly presented, for the most part, although it jumps around quite quickly at times, becoming somewhat difficult to follow on a few occasions. Still, its message is profoundly clear because of Loui’s masterful performance. Though there are no costume changes to suggest the different characters, Loui’s adjustments in voice and physicality make it easy to distinguish between the characters, ranging from a very young Amish schoolgirl and her older sister, to an outraged area woman who watched the news on TV, to the shooter’s haunted wife and the feisty young, pregnant store clerk who encounters her,  as well as a sympathetic local college professor who acts as a spokesman for the Amish community, and the unsettling, preoccupied gunman himself.  Loui is able to effectively portray both female and male characters of varying ages and backgrounds with remarkable clarity, shifting between vivid characterizations without missing a beat. Much of the drama comes through the contrasting stories and portrayals, and how each character deals with the events.  Responses ranging from disbelief to rage, weariness to shock, sadness, anger, confusion, compassion and forgiveness are richly portrayed here, and Loui has the energy, presence and credibility to convey all these emotions and more. It’s a profoundly memorable, poetic and riveting performance.

The play is simply staged, with Kyra Bishop’s set suggesting the Amish schoolhouse. Loui’s costume, designed by Jane Sullivan, is appropriately authentic. The sound, designed by Zoe Sullivan, and the lighting designed by Michael Sullivan, are both used to excellent effect, as changes in light and sound effects are used expertly to suggest changes in scene or character. All the technical elements effectively augment Loui’s acting and maintain the overall mood of the piece.

The Amish Project is commendable for taking some very difficult issues and treating them with respect and depth, without descending into sentimentality or manipulation. The situations are presented with startling emotional detail, and with a vividness that is sure to stay in viewers’ minds.  Ultimately, the success of a one-person show relies on the effectiveness of that one performer, and Loui delivers an outstanding central performance with remarkable energy and sensitivity.

Amy Loui Photo by John Lamb Mustard Seed Theatre

Amy Loui
Photo by John Lamb
Mustard Seed Theatre

Mustard Seed Theatre’s productio of The Amish Project runs at the Fontbonne University Fine Arts Theatre until September 13, 2015 

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