The Amish Project, in the Guthrie Theater’s Dowling Studio

Jessica Dickey in The Amish Project. Photo by Sandra Coudert.

Jessica Dickey in The Amish Project. Photo by Sandra Coudert.

The Amish Project (in the Guthrie’s Dowling Studio, through Feb 14) recounts disturbing events that occurred in Nickel Mines PA, on Oct 2, 2006: a troubled – make that insane – man, Ed Stuckey, entered an Amish school, released a teacher and the boys, forced the girls to line up in front of a blackboard, and then, as squad cars squealed into the lot, murdered five girls and then committed suicide. Stuckey left a community (and a widow) reeling and struggling to comprehend the horror he created. The only people who faced what he did straight on, calmly, were the Amish themselves: they forgave him.

Dealing with this tragedy, writer/actor Jessica Dickey doesn’t flinch. In her one person show, she creates seven characters – Amish students; a local store clerk; a professor/spokesman; Stuckey’s widow; indeed, the gunman himself – and details the events in a fragmented, disjointed, hallucinatory way. In The Amish Project, the presence of Stuckey (a ghost?) at the edge of a road makes sense. Dickey captures, perfectly, the swirl of emotion Stuckey creates.

Looking for exposition about the Amish, the nature of Amish culture? Their religious beliefs? Info about the Anabaptist movement that sent them across the ocean in the 18th century, the reasons for their denial of electricity and gasoline? Look elsewhere. You won’t find it in The Amish Project.

Instead, Dickey deals with gargantuan subjects. The nature of forgiveness. The passion that exists just beneath the placid surface of our communities. The way the Amish take advantage of our anger: they get to forgive; we suffer. The presence of God. The impulse to murder. The nature of Death. Of guilt. Innocence. Youth. Primal stuff.

But how, you ask, was the show? Well, here I must confess a prejudice against one person performances. I would have been much happier had Dickey and the Guthrie hired a half dozen actors and turned them loose through this rich rich material. They would have explored the events in Nickel Mines more vividly than does Dickey.

Ah, but this is just me. Ignore me. Your mileage will likely vary and that Jessica Dickey is an actor of power and passion, substance and spirit, cannot be denied. The Guthrie has done us a great service by bringing her to us.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book about the magic of bedtime stories, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, has recently been published. Art Dog will shortly play at the Denver Childrens Theatre. In progress: a theatrical portrait of the great Anna May Wong. His screenplay, A Slaying Song Tonight, has been optioned. www.johnolive.net.

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