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Dazzling and Disturbing 'Amish Project'

City Rep’s production of The Amish Project, a fictionalized account of the harrowing shooting in Bart Township, Pennsylvania in 2006, is a deep look into the processing of grief and the understanding of human empathy. Written by Jessica Dickey and Directed by Todd Olson, this one woman show is a powerful piece of theatre that forces the audience to examine their own relationships and how they’ve dealt with the issues of life, death, and the evil that exists within all of us.

The story, as stream of consciousness, is propelled by the various individuals who were affected by the shooting. The audience sees these victims, those affected by the murders, and the killer all portrayed by one outstanding actress. Glimpses of the event are shown within fragments of thoughts and actions. These highlights of sorrow, anger, and helplessness create a collage of breathtaking emotional struggle. This journey, guided by those who felt the greatest pain, demonstrates that grief, while handled differently by everyone, is something we all must go through.

Katherine Michelle Tanner expertly plays the numerous characters in this profound drama. Her wonderful skill is plainly evident in her ability to create such definite contrast and individuality between the starkly different personalities of the piece. All the while, Tanner, never once leaves the realm of believability. She jumps between characters as diverse as a concerned professor, an outraged older woman, a small confused child, and even the grieving widow of a broken man gone killer. There is not a single moment out of place or an action not precisely executed. The range of her ability is certainly utilized and her talents are widely showcased. Tanner even plays a pregnant teen Puerto Rican, whose accent she wore with conviction. From the heights of joyous bliss to the abyss of pedophilic homicide, Tanner gives a performance of great depth and pertinence.

There are six chairs, three slatted walls, two chalk boards, and one open window; nothing more. Donald Jordan’s scenic design, along with beautifully simplistic staging, allows the audience to slip into the created world of the piece and be lulled in by the unassuming pictures that are created. Scott Hynes’s lighting design helps to further envelop the audience in the hearts and minds of the characters, leading them on an introspective journey. Sound design by director Olson compliments the piece in perfect harmony, establishing rhythm and atmosphere that creates the finished world of this play. Also of note is the wonderful dramaturgy presentation by Anna Holloway. By understanding the context of the piece, as well as better understanding the Amish people themselves, the audience is prepped and ready for this marvelous performance.

This profound drama is something for the ages. Whether it be for the heartfelt retelling of a tragic tale, the introspective analysis of grief, forgiveness, and joy, or simply to have a greater understanding of a tragic event, see The Amish Project this weekend as it travels to Columbia Arts Festival in Columbia, Maryland.