A terrible tragedy met with unexpected forgiveness.
In 2006 a man walked into an Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, forced the teacher and all the boys to leave the class, tied up the remaining girls, and shot them. He then shot himself.
After grieving and burying the dead, the members of that Amish community wanted to meet the man’s wife to comfort her and to let her know they forgive her husband and absolve her from any guilt.
Playwright Jessica Dickey was fascinated by the story and chose to write a play about the experience. Like the similarly titled The Laramie Project, which was also about a brutal murder, Dickey opted to look at the experience through the eyes of seven people. Unlike Laramie which built its script from interviews with citizens connected to the incident, Dickey made up her characters and their thoughts before and after the murders.
Director Evan Frayne keeps the staging simple. There is a single chair on Carolyn Rapanos’ torn roof set, with the floor painted rustic and worn. Jonathan Kim’s lighting uses subtle shifts to create new moods and locales.
The use of evocative and dramatic music by James Coomber was at times sorrowful and angry and always important.
The bulk of the show rests with actor Susie Coodin who must jump back and forth at breakneck speed between characters. Adopting a different posture and tone for each, she clearly delineates whether she is a young lady or the killer. It is an impressive feat.
The tricky character jumps in the script makes it difficult at times to follow the individual stories, and the show has a couple of false endings. As a result it becomes a powerful message, about the power of forgiveness that sometimes loses it power.
The Amish Project by Jessica Dickey. Directed by Evan Frayne. A Pacific Theatre presentation of a Bleeding Heart Theatre production. On stage at Pacific Theatre (1440 West 12 Ave, Vancouver) until November 21. Visit https://pacifictheatre.org for tickets and information.