The Amish Project at American Theater Company Review - A One Woman Triumph Over Tragedy

 

Sadieh Rifai in The Amish Project

The American Theater Company in north Lakeview opened it’s 27th season with Jessica Dickey’s The Amish Project, featuring ensemble member Sadieh Rifai and directed by PJ Papparelli. A one-act one-woman play, The Amish Project examines the toll taken on seven different characters faced with a tragedy that rocked an entire community, taking stock of the profound and sometimes unlikely emotions that surface in reaction to a shared loss. A stunning performance on an intense topic, The Amish Project poses a bold and provocative question: what does it mean to forgive?

Sadieh Rifai in The Amish Project

In the hustle and bustle of the developed Western world, many people would scoff at the notion that we as a society could learn something from the Amish community. But in rejecting many of society’s norms, the Amish have values that distill fundamental virtues into what a modern lens would consider utterly idealistic. How could a culture sit in the heart of the United States and choose a life devoid of big screen TVs, health insurance, and chai spice lattes? Despite a world advancing around them, the Amish opt for a simpler life, but their exposure to the modern world, with all its greatness and tragedy, is closer than they think.

Sadieh Rifai in The Amish Project

In the days following the 2006 Nickel Creek, Pennsylvania tragedy where a gunman killed five Amish school girls then himself, the Amish community took the rare and remarkable position of expressing complete forgiveness toward the gunman. People criticized the Amish Community for blindly forgiving the gunman, and yet the tenets of their culture and faith demanded it, and the Amish unflinchingly and faithfully embraced the widow of the gunman, even sharing donations that poured in following the national media attention the story received.

Sadieh Rifai in The Amish Project

Rifai enters from a blinding light off-stage and with the help of a stage hand dons a traditional Amish frock replete with the mesh linen bonnet. She then grabs a piece of chalk and embodies the presence of a young Amish girl. In minutes she has scrawled all over the floor and shares stories of religion, boys, and even of the shooting as told by a girl too young to comprehend. She is flitting around the room when she pauses at a chair, sits heavily, lets out a sigh, and produces a cigarette. Suddenly she is the grieving widow, unable to comprehend the horrors of society, bitter and afraid.

Sadieh Rifai in The Amish Project

Rifai executed the transitions between characters flawlessly, with visual support from creative lighting cues. Dickey writes character transitions three or four times between each breath in some scenes, and though Rifai was alone at times the stage felt full of ensemble members. Particularly resonant were the widow character and the innocent youth, though she breathed humor into the young Puerto Rican clerk, and dignity into the Amish culture scholar who acted as plot device for some of the more salient facts about both the Amish culture and the shootings.

Sadieh Rifai in The Amish Project

Dickey acknowledges in the play bill that she intended the play as a work of fiction though the events and characters are real. She also acknowledges her refusal to research the gunman or his widow, or conduct interviews with anyone directly involved in the shooting. I found Dickey’s choice to share this information to be problematic. The irony seeps out of the moment the widow muses “Think of the sickest thing you’ve ever read. Go ahead. Wait let me guess. It was a true story.” To place this very real event in a fictionalized environment, particularly when the true story is so rich and compelling, the motives of the gunman so infuriatingly mysterious and horrible, makes the narrative feel anything BUT unflinching. At moments the character’s motives rang insincere and perhaps misunderstood by the author. That said, there was some beautiful moments where the characters’ lives intersect, and a remarkably descriptive presence of the father of one of the victims, where we are allowed to see that forgiveness precludes revenge, but not grief.

Sadieh Rifai in The Amish Project

The Amish Project, runs through October 23 at the American Theater Company on 1909 W Byron.  The fifth anniversary of the tragic event is October 2, and that evening’s performance will include a special discussion with cast and crew. With a stellar performance and captivating source material, the play will wow you as well as provoke great discussions on the true meanings of forgiveness.

For tickets and show times, or for the upcoming American Theater Company 2011 – 2012 season, go to www.atcweb.org, or call the box office at 773-409-4125. All photos are of Sadieh Rifai

Top of Page

lasplash.com
Join Splash Magazines

Feature Article

Tempflow™ and Tempur-Pedic® Reviews - What 35 Hours of Research Uncovered

Want Your Business to Male a Splash
<!-- #wrapper -->