The X-Men and other morphers have nothing on Nanna Ingvarsson, the local actress fluidly shape-shifting into seven characters that form a community united by tragedy in the one-woman show The Amish Project.
What began as a New York Fringe Festival work for playwright Jessica Dickey has now become a showcase for the talents of Ingvarsson, who has shined in supporting roles for years on Washington stages. She commands your attention at the Anacostia Arts Center, a sun-dappled space that is a welcoming howdy-do to the Anacostia neighborhood, in a Factory 449 production under the unstinting direction of Holly Twyford, no slouch in the thespian arts herself.
Ingvarsson and Twyford bring much specificity and an overall air of generosity to The Amish Project, admirable given the stubbly, desolate premise of the piece. The work is a fictional exploration of a shooting in a one-room Amish schoolhouse outside of Lancaster, Pa. in 2006. A truck driver, Eddie Stuckey, went into the schoolhouse intending to molest the Amish girls, letting the teacher and the male students escape.
However, the police arrived before he could carry out the sexual assaults—instead; he lined up the girls at the blackboard, shooting six of them. He killed five before turning the gun on himself.
In this interpretation and commentary on the events in the intensely private Amish community, Ingvarsson plays seven characters—two of the female victims, the shooter, his widow, an angry Southerner who has relocated to Lancaster Country, a pregnant Hispanic American teen working at the local grocery store and a religion professor who has done extensive scholarly research on the Amish.
Just the thought of those young girls grouped in a firing line—hands and feet tied—in what once was a place of learning and warmth is enough to chill you clean down to the bone—thankfully, Dickey’s play does not dwell on gory, lurid details. Even the setting goes for nuance, a suggestion of a schoolroom and the surrounding countryside by Greg Stevens, strikingly lighted by Joseph R. Walls.
In fact, the work questions the necessity of numbing news crawls and incessant television “live updates” that turn tragedies into sensationalist fodder. It also ruminates on privacy—how the concept of privacy has vanished from American life, while being an essential part of the Amish culture and key to its survival. One virtuoso sequence has Ingvarsson, playing the distraught widow, reducing the media coverage to anguished gabble as she says the words “Green field.” “Red.” “White.” “This just in.” over and over.
The Amish Project dwells on the living and the lives cut short. Ingvarsson revels in playing one of the younger victims, a precocious girl who loves to draw in chalk and sketch Amish hats not only on stick figures, but at the tops of lower-case letters. Ingvarsson shows us the dandelion-bright life in her, the love she has for her Papa and family, her hopes and dreams as she whispers “I can’t wait to have breasts.” When she draws the figures and distinguishing features of all the girls—meticulously adding in their “weird teeth” and “pretty pink lips”—the enormity of event, the crushing of such budding lives, is almost too much to endure.
THE AMISH PROJECT
Closes May 11, 2014
Factory 449 at
Anacostia Arts Center
1231 Good Hope Rd SE
1 hour, 30 minutes, no intermission
Thursdays thru Sundays
Carol’s bizarro trip to the market results in frantic encounters with the Hispanic-American teen, an empathetic cashier, as well as with the transplanted Southerner, who spews the angry disbelief and revenge fantasies so many non-Amish Americans must have harbored.
For that is the crux of The Amish Project—forgiveness. The Amish community not only immediately forgave the killer, but also went to the widow’s house with food and condolences—offering up their sympathies, their presence, their support.
The play asks, could we do that? Could we forgive such an act, leave it up to God’s plan, walk forward without vowing justice or revenge? In addition to these big questions, the play also suggests that there is mercy too in the simple act of forgiving yourself.
The Amish Project by Jessica Dickey . Directed by Holly Twyford . Featuring Nanna Ingvarsson . Produced by
Factory 449 . Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.