BWW Review: THE AMISH PROJECT by The Hummingbird Theater Company at MUCCC Wows
Hummingbird Theater Company's slogan reads, "hover in the moment." That thoughtful pause describes perfectly the theatrical experience director/producer Donald Brian Bartalo creates with his latest venture, THE AMISH PROJECT, at MUCCC. This extraordinary one-person show written by Jessica Dickey fictionally explores the Nickel Mines schoolhouse shooting that fragmented the lives of families in and around an Amish community near Lancaster Pennsylvania in 2006. At lights up, the audience enters an unfamiliar world. There are no introductions or explanations. We meet a young Amish girl sitting at a school desk who is fascinated with hats. The actor then morphs into her older sister thrilled by the beauty of the world, then a non-Amish woman feverishly smoking. These transformations continue for seven disparate characters. Each is a fragment laid out and unexplained like the patches of a quilt waiting to be sewn together, to be made whole. And that is the dramatic structure Dickey deftly stitches over the next 90 riveting minutes. She lovingly and sympathetically presents each character's terror, goodness and beauty. Slowly, these characters, torn to pieces, are inextricably knotted together by chance or fate or God. Jessica Dickey quilts an absolute masterwork that warms with compassion and unflinching fellowship.
But as any quilter knows, the construction of a quilt can easily go awry. It needs to be carefully blocked and framed. It requires skillful hands and a keen eye for detail. Fortunately, this Amish project is well stitched and bonded. Bartalo's direction is clean and clear. By linking each character to a set piece and a location, the audience has no trouble perceiving the characters and their relationships as they develop. Likewise, M. J. Savastano creates seven distinct characters ranging widely in age, outlook and emotional state. She transitions from one character to the next seamlessly, making passionate shifts with quickness and grace. From the moment of crisis to the climax of the play, she builds the dramatic tension and heightens the emotional specificity of each troubled individual. Notably, her portrayal of Carol Stuckey, the widow of the schoolhouse shooter, is filled with complexity and depth of emotion, a remarkable achievement for a young actor. Most importantly, she plays each character with restraint. It would be far too easy for an actor to squeeze out histrionics in such a poignant play. Savastano builds her characters from the emotional core out, never imposing a fake façade for effect.
Hummingbird Theater Company's production of THE AMISH PROJECT is a must see for anyone interested in Rochester theatre. It is thoughtful, engaging and honest. It is unfortunate that there are only five performances. Hopefully, Hummingbird and Savastano are making plans to showcase this play at fringe or one-person show festivals. But just in case, get your tickets now.
THE AMISH PROJECT runs until November 10th. For more information about time and tickets click here.