The Amish Project
Jessica Dickey mixes fact and fiction with a docudrama solo piece.
Thu Jun 18 2009
PRAY, TELL Dickey appeals to a higher power
Time Out Ratings<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5
The program for Jessica Dickey’s extraordinarily moving, yet ethically troubling The Amish Project includes a careful disclaimer: “Characters are entirely fictional and are not meant to represent real people.” A page-long note follows, explaining Dickey’s choice to dream up new characters to populate a real-life horror, the 2006 Nickel Mines shootings—which left five Amish schoolgirls and the gunman dead. Dickey doth excuse herself too much, and she doth it because the “project” (her title deliberately recalls Moiss Kaufman’s scrupulous, interview-based The Laramie Project) makes a devil’s bargain. Dickey wants to control the story, but she also wants to launch it from a ready-made emotional springboard. Of course, good fiction sprouts from killing fields all the time—think of dramas set in concentration camps. But this ground is muddier; some of Dickey’s “characters” are living people to whom she has never spoken, and with whom she is taking serious liberties.
If Dickey’s process makes me queasy, her craft made me weep. The virtuosic writer-performer acts her bonnet off—sporting modest Amish garb, Dickey plays a delightful, doomed little girl, the shooter’s bewildered widow and, inevitably, the killer himself. Between segments, director Sarah Cameron Sunde sends her to pose behind the spare set’s windows, where she looks—scowling in Nicole Pearce’s honeyed lights—like a Vermeer portrait gone insane. The show artfully asks serious questions about our limited capacity for charity, an exercise that spares us from the piece’s unremitting sadness. But thank goodness The Amish Project deals so carefully with clemency, since—to my mind—it requires a measure of forgiveness for its own little sins.—Helen Shaw