After the 2006 mass shooting of young students at an Amish school in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Jessica Dickey chose to explore the incident and the Amish community's reaction in what she calls a "fictional exploration of a true event." She had heard details of the event through the news coverage at the time, and did extensive research on the Amish in order to develop characters that are part of the thoughtful and thought-provoking piece called The Amish Project. The play, in which Dickey plays all of the characters, premiered in 2008 at the New York International Fringe Festival, and subsequently played an Off-Broadway run in 2009 at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.
Because the Amish are so private, the details of this incident and the effect on the entire community will most likely never be known. In a respectful and reflective way, Dickey offers a sense of what might have gone on during the shooting, both outwardly and in the minds of those involved, and a look at local reaction and the one thing that is known: the Amish quickly offered forgiveness toward the shooter and his family. The playwright admits that "the boundary between fact and fiction is a fraught one," and one might think the line may be occasionally crossed here (using specific details from the incident, such as the shooter claiming to be looking for a missing "clevis pin" when he first approaches those in the school), it is clear that there is no intention to exploit or to draw conclusions. It is simply a chance to encourage thought about a tragic event, and understanding of forgiveness.
In the City Theatre's intimate Lester Hamburg Studio, the playwright/actress along with director Sarah Cameron Sunde, scenic and costume designer Lauren Helpern, lighting designer Nicole Pearce, and sound designer Jill B.C. Du Boff form an extremely cohesive, emotional and compelling production. Dickey is impressively adept at switching characters frequently and clearly (even taking the part of a very young girl, something that is almost always an exercise in futility for an adult actor), using voice and body language to depict Amish children as well as others from the "English" (non-Amish) worldall the while wearing a traditional Amish dress, apron and bonnet. Her connection to the audience is very tight, bringing emotions to the surface. It's really an incredible creation.
The Amish Project (running time 65 minutes, no intermission) continues at City Theatre through May 8, 2011. For performance and ticket information, call 412.431.CITY (2489) or visit www.citytheatrecompany.org/.