by Nancy Holley
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The Amish Project asks the question “How could the Amish forgive such a thing?” Playwright Jessica Dickey was deeply affected by the shooting that occurred on October 2, 2006, at a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Nichol Mines, PA. Dickey determined to answer the question, asked by so many at the time of the incident. Her journey began with the many news reports, but continued and ended with deeply researching the Amish themselves.
Wanting to maintain the privacy of those affected by the event, Dickey chose to fictionalize her characters. “It is my private prayer that this play, should they ever know about it, would not hurt them further, but somehow honor the goodness they forged in the face of such tragedy.” In the end, The Amish Project was a one-woman show in which the playwright portrayed seven characters: two men, two women, two teenagers, and a child.
Perhaps the most powerful influence in the play is Aaron Yoder, who never speaks, but rather is spoken about. As the father of two of the little girls shot by Eddie Stuckey, his burden is to forgive. Based on the Amish principle of forgiveness, he must forgive first and then struggle with the emotions he feels.
Aaron’s daughters, Anna age 14, and Velda age 6, embody the emotions and knowledge of Amish children and teenagers. Velda, originally carefree and playful, eventually understands the severity of the situation and yet holds out the hope of redemption. Anna sways between the joys of teenage barn dances and the fears engendered by the stares of a crazed gunman.
To ensure that the audience understands a bit about Amish culture, historically as well as in the present, the playwright included Bill North. Not only is North a professor of American Religion at a local university, but he has also been a recipient of Amish forgiveness, providing him with special insight into the Amish reaction to the horror of the shootings.
Carol Stuckey, the gunman’s wife, is a central figure in the play. Through her love for her husband, we learn that “Eddie isn’t a bad guy. He isn’t the Devil.” We see their young love, how it started, and how they became a family. We are led to understand that there are emotions in all of us of which we may not be aware.
Focusing on how the tragic event might be seen by non-Amish observers, Sherry Local describes seeing the news flashes, her feelings as the story is repeated over and over, and how she tries to reason out the Amish and their actions. Ultimately, she never understands how they could forgive such a thing. When Sherry confronts Carol, accusing her of being the cause of her husband’s actions, America, a pregnant non-white teenager, tries to befriend Carol, but Carol is too distraught to accept her help. Later after being affected by the Amish forgiveness, Carol apologizes to America, and tells her “she is a good girl.”
Eddie Stuckey has problems, but at the same time, he loves his sons. He loves his wife. “He just couldn’t keep his darkness down any more, and it ate him.” He put himself in a situation where he saw no way to recover. “I shot ‘em. Each one—in the head. And then I shot myself.”
The Amish Project, directed by Irene Morse, opens at the Ice House Theatre at Race and Santa Fe in Visalia at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, April 21, 2017, and runs for three weekends with evening performances at 7:30 p.m. on 4/21, 4/22, 4/28, 4/29, 5/5, and 5/6, and matinees at 2 p.m. on 4/23, 4/30, and 5/7.
NOTE: This play contains adult content and language. It is also a Lobby Show.
For more information about the Visalia Community Players and to purchase tickets, check out their website and KRL’s article about VCP. Tickets may also be purchased by calling 734-3900. For details about local arts groups in Tulare County, visit the Visalia Arts Consortium website.
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To purchase two tickets for the price of one, enter KRLTAP in the Have a code? box on the Buy/Redeem Tickets Reservation page via the Players website.