Grief, anger & innocence all explored in Mo’olelo’s latest
By Charlene Baldridge | SDUN Theater Critic
Extraordinary Latina actor Iliana Carter, a 2004 graduate of UCLA’s theater arts program, plays all seven characters in Jessica Dickey’s “The Amish Project,” produced by Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company through Oct. 20.
Chief among those characters is a 6-year-old victim of the shooting rampage that evoked this extraordinary play. Playwright Dickey’s fictional work was inspired by the 2006 West Nickel Mines School shooting in which a 33-year-old man shot 10 Amish schoolchildren, five of whom perished.
The shooter committed suicide when the police arrived, leaving behind a widow and three children. Shortly thereafter, the Amish community reached out to the shooter’s family with compassion and forgiveness. Nationwide, their peaceful response elicited almost as much ink as the shooting itself.
Dickey’s non-linear play explores issues surrounding grief, anger, innocence and forgiveness through the feelings of numerous people, including Velda, the oblivious, innocent child; Anna, Velda’s 14-year-old sister; Bill North, a professor called upon to explain Amish culture at a press conference following the massacre; America, an unwed, pregnant grocery-store clerk; shooter Eddie Stuckey; and Stuckey’s worldly widow, Carol.
The text ranges from poetic to crass, depending upon who’s talking; characters come and go with changes of facial expression and body language. Carter makes each apparent.
Once you become accustomed to Anna’s oddly inflected diction, you are fit to sail along with the inexorable tale. The adorable nature and beauty of this child character broke my heart, but the shooter spoke the poetry I took home as he mused on the nature of intuition:
“some kind of Somethin’ that’s out there. / But I’ve always thought that the real magic happens on the other side…/ in the places we can’t be, / the places that are protected from us…”
“The Amish Project” is yet another piece of complex, important and timely theater, perfect for Mo’olelo, especially as underscored by Carter’s considerable ability, the imagination of director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, and upheld by the creative team.
The design works excellently and subtly to support the actor. David F. Weiner, who created the “wow” set for “Extraordinary Chambers,” creates a clean, clear setting for “The Amish Project,” kind of an all-purpose schoolhouse with elements of the cosmos built in.
Jeannie Galioto clothes Carter in traditional Amish dress. The chalkboard on which Carter’s Velda draws stick figures is amplified in the floor, where her childish recitation, drawings and naming of names adds to the play’s sad, disturbing and peaceful climax.
Timothy Nottage must be mentioned for his design of the props. Jason Bieber provides lighting and costume designer Jeannie Galioto and sound designer Nicholas Drashner uphold Sonnenberg’s images as well.
“The Amish Project”
WHERE: Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company at 10th Avenue Theatre, 930 10th Ave. (Downtown)
WHEN: Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. through Oct. 20.