The Amish Project—without the Amish

Dark Glass Theatre is presenting Jessica Dickey's The Amish Project at The Nest.

Kelsey Krogman plays Carol in The Amish Project.

The Amish Project is a sentimental fictionalization of a tragedy.

In 2006, a shooter entered a school in the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. He held ten girls hostage and shot eight of them, killing five. The Amish responded with forgiveness, reaching out to the shooter’s wife and three children and establishing a charitable fund for the family.

That’s powerful source material, but playwright Jessica Dickey fails to do it justice.

According to director Angela Konrad’s program notes, Dickey didn’t interview any of the people directly affected by the Nickel Mines shooting. That’s too bad because, if she had, she might have created a more resonant script.

Instead, Dickey contents herself with superficial poetics. The play’s actors repeat the headline “Man enters Amish schoolhouse and opens fire” so often that it quickly moves from being heavy-handed to being tedious. In an effort to present innocence, Dickey has a young character named Velda mime drawing endless stick figures. And Velda’s older sister Anna floats about as a ghost—like a refugee from Our Town— tenderly observing her parents and community.

None of this lands. None of it has the ring of harsh truth or genuine beauty. It’s just made up.

As written, the characterizations and relationships are thin. To establish that Eddie, the murderer, has a tender side, Dickey has him repeatedly say, “I love the kind of flowers that smell.” Even Eddie’s wife Carol, who is at the centre of the story, is sparsely imagined. Dickey shows us a few generic moments in Carol’s life, including a couple of encounters in a general store, but she doesn’t give the character any detail—or agency. And she tells us next to nothing about Velda and Anna’s father Aaron, who reaches out to Carol after his daughters’ deaths.

This lack of literary and dramatic structure leaves the actors hanging; almost all they can deliver is attitude. Given the circumstances, a couple of them are surprisingly good at it.

Anna Dalgleish plays Anna with unaffected radiance. She also plays America, a pregnant 16-year-old Latina who is the best-written character in the script. America has a clear, present-time goal that she actively pursues: she wants to prove to her mom that she’s a good person. (Instructively, the climax of America’s story is the most moving moment in the play—for me at least.) Dalgleish’s accent is a little wonky, but she clearly understands America’s wit and resilience.

Playing Carol, Kelsey Krogman has by far the most difficult assignment: The Amish Project basically requires her to vibrate with pain from beginning to end—and she pulls it off without ever feeling false. That’s a generous and impressive accomplishment.

I don’t doubt for a moment the good intentions of everybody involved with this project. I just wish they’d chosen a better script.

THE AMISH PROJECT By Jessica Dickey. Directed by Angela Konrad. A Dark Glass Theatre production at The Nest (formerly Studio 1398) on Thursday, February 21. Continues until February 23.Tickets.


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About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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