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When The World Was Green and The Amish Project
American Stage Theater


Katherine Michelle Tannier
American Stage is presenting two short (65 minutes each) plays in repertoire: When the World Was Green (A Chef's Fable), by Sam Shepard and Joseph Chaikin, and The Amish Project by Jessica Dickey, separate admission for each. Both plays have a similar theme of violence and redemption or lack thereof and, together, especially seen close together, they make a very powerful impact. When the World Was Green is about a murder which is committed because of a generations-long inter-family feud never resolved. Ironically, our protagonist killed the wrong man by mistake. He is sitting in some sort of jail setting and is being interviewed by a young woman trying to come to terms with his actions to thereby come to terms with her own demons. The subtitle is revealing—this really is a fable, the important lesson lies beyond the actual story.

The lead character is deeply involved with food in various ways and this is used in a metaphorical way which I didn't care for because I don't have a deep interest in food. Still, the way it is developed makes for a well drawn character. American Stage favorite Michael Edwards gives a strong performance in this role. The role of the interviewer is a little more predictable but still an important part of the dramatic arc, and Amanda Collins, a Boston based actress seen a couple of years ago in An Ideal Husband, is highly effective.

The Amish Project is about the aftermath of a horrific act of violence, a gunman killed six young Amish children in their school on October 2, 2006. Almost immediately after, the Amish community forgave the shooter and his family. This exploration is a work of fiction. A program note from the author makes this very clear and why.

Katherine Michelle Tanner plays seven different characters, male and female of various ethnicities, ages and sexes. She is more effective in some parts than others, as I am sure anyone trying to portray such a wide variety of characters would be. Her strongest characterizations are Velda, a 6-year-old Amish girl; Carol Stuckey, the gunman's wife; and America, a 16-year-old Hispanic girl. These are also the most powerfully written characters. Other characters she plays include Bill North, who attempts to explain important information about the Amish culture; Anna, older sister to Velda; and Eddie Stuckey, the shooter, only briefly.

Both productions utilize the same stage frame which is altered completely for each play. Each completely evokes the world that its play inhabits. I saw When the World was Green first and thought the representation of a jail setting was brilliant. An hour later it became a rural one-room school house, brilliant work by Greg Bierce.

Artistic Director Todd Olson has directed both plays, drawing excellent acting from his casts. When the World Was Green calls for less physical action, yet it is kept from being static. The Amish Project demands more physicality and it is delivered. In the beginning there are six chairs representing the school setting, three rows of two chairs. During the play the chairs are arranged and rearranged and rearranged again. I don't think I have ever seen chairs used for such strong dramatic purpose.

Costume design by Saidah Ben Judah is most effective in the second play because the first doesn't offer opportunities for evocative costuming. All other technical aspects are representative of the very best that American Stage offers.

Each play is interesting, The Amish Project more so to me, but both together play off each other in very powerful ways. Seeing them in one afternoon was a theatrical experience that I will not soon forget. Unfortunately, with two separate admissions, some people will see one and not the other. It might have been wonderful to present both as a single evening if royalties were not prohibitive, but baring that possibility, perhaps offering a discounted package deal would have been possible.

When the World Was Green, through April 21, and The Amish Project, through May 12, at American Stage Theatre Company, 163 Third Street North, St. Petersburg. For more information, visit http://www.americanstage.org.

Cast:
When the World Was Green
The Interviewer: Amanda Collins*
Old Man: Michael Edwards*
The Amish Project
Katherine Michelle Tanner*

*Member Actors Equity

Director/Sound Design: Todd Olson
Scenic Design: Greg Bierce
Video Design: Karla Hartley
Lighting Design: Ian Mills
Costume Design: Saidah Ben Judah
property Design/Set Dressing: Jerid Fox
Production Stage Manager: Stephen M. Ray, Jr.


Photo: American Stage

--William S. Oser



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