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The Amish Project
The Amish are an elusive and reclusive people one seldom reads about in the news. So when on October 2, 2006 the world learned that gunman Charles Carl Roberts IV had entered an Amish one-room schoolhouse in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and killed five girls before committing suicide, the news was greeted with astonishment and outrage. The event was the inspiration for Jessica Dickey's The Amish Project, a one-woman show that premiered at the 2008 Fringe Festival.
Dickey's multi-character monologue is only loosely based on the events. She writes that "to remain sensitive to the real people who were affected by the shooting, while giving myself creative license to write an unflinching play, I purposefully did not research the gunman or his widow, nor did I conduct any interviews of any kind." In fact, all of Dickey's characters are fictional, based on what she absorbed from watching the news when the killings occurred and additional information she gained from books written on the Amish.
Her characters include Anna, a 14-year-old Amish girl who died in the shooting; Carol Stuckey, the 31-year-old widow of the gunman; Velda, Anna's six-year-old sister, who also died in the shooting; Bill North, a scholar on Amish culture; Sherry Local, a 53-year-old community resident; America, a pregnant Hispanic teenager who works in a local grocery store; and finally, Eddie Stuckey, the 33-year-old gunman.
Under Sarah Cameron Sunde's direction, Dickey's performance is memorable for the way in which she delineates all these characters: the innocent young girls, the confused, but kindhearted America, the self-righteous Local, the self-pitying (and pitiful) Carol. But not one of these people gives any insight into the central question of the event and the play. Why did Stuckey commit the horrific act and how the Amish community was able to not only forgive the killer but also reach out to his family with comfort and care, remains a question mark. Consequently, watching The Amish Project is like observing a hound dog sniffing round and round in circles, digging up the ground and finally achieving nothing more than excavating an empty hole.
The young girls are cute. Little Velda is particularly charming as she sketches make-believe pictures for the audience or when she dreams of the future in which a boy will fall in love with her and she'll let him kiss her but she'll eventually tell him "I can't marry you because you're not Amish." America, whose ability to see the good in people is only rivaled by the Amish themselves, might have been an effective character in a different play in which she belonged. However, when in comes to the actual killer, Dickey is remarkably vague and the Worst of all, because some of the characters are so peripherally related to the actual events, it takes a while to figure out who they are and why they are in the play at all. Dickey wears the same Amish clothing (apron and bonnet) throughout and never uses any additional garments or props to signify a change in character. Nor does the minimal set — a chair, three suspended window frames and the hint of a painted field in the distance offer much help.
Dickey claims that her lack of research into the actual killings gave her "creative license to write an unflinching play." The fact is that what she's really written is a play that skirts the issues in favor of self-indulgent flights of fancy.