An Off Broadway play about the tragic Nickel Mines schoolhouse shooting in October 2006 opened last Wednesday at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in New York City. Sarah Cameron Sunde directs the production, The Amish Project, which was written and solo acted by Jessica Dickey. It is a fictionalized presentation of the compassion and forgiveness displayed by the Amish community in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in the wake of the tragedy.
According to one reviewer, David Finkle, the actress imagines fictional characters who portray the events that occurred that day in 2006, and the following days. Dickey acts out the reactions and thoughts of the killer, some of the students he murdered, their parents, his widow, and an expert on the Amish, as events unfolded. The reviewer felt that one drawback to that device is that some of those people, such as killer’s widow and the parents of the dead girls, are still very much alive.
The theme of Amish forgiveness pervades the show. The murderer’s widow recounts with awe a visit she received from the families of the dead girls. The expert on the Amish describes his impressions of them: “I’ve been teaching about them, studying them for 25 years—it doesn’t matter what your faith is or if you even have one—something about them makes you wonder: What am I? Could I be more?”
That reviewer found the fictionalized, imagined characters to be quite compelling. He liked the portrayal of the young girl who asked to be shot second, right after her older sister, who had already asked to be the first one shot. He especially appreciated the killer’s widow, who had difficulty figuring out how to cope with the ordeal.
Variety also reviewed the show and liked it, except for the way it portrays the Lancaster County Amish as quasi-saintly human beings. “Dickey has picked a fascinating story,” in the opinion of Sam Thielman, the reviewer, “but she’s neglected the humanity of its most interesting characters.”
To judge by the review, Dickey picked up quite well on the fact that the Amish forgave the killer, Charles Carl Roberts, just as they believe that Jesus forgives them. The world, Mr. Thielman writes, “could probably stand another production or two that makes peace and forgiveness its principal virtues.” He feels that Dickey’s portrayal of their saintly Christian charity does not make for very compelling drama.
He also criticizes the Hispanic accent of the actress and a sub-plot that is unconvincing, though overall he thinks the one-woman show is very well performed. “But the production’s overwhelming gentleness is not always an asset,” he concludes.
The New York Times reviewer liked the play very much. He felt that Dickey gave an “extraordinary performance,” and that it is really “a remarkable piece of writing.” He states that “Ms. Dickey … is completely convincing as she switches among the play’s seven characters.”
The Amish Project will be playing daily except Tuesdays at the Rattlestick theater, 224 Waverly Place, Greenwich Village, through June 28. Times for showings are listed on the theater website, which also sells tickets. The theater has 95 seats, and the top ticket price is $35.00.