Monday, April 11, 2016

The Amish Project—Portland Actors Conservatory—SW Portland

The Nature of Evil

This drama about the murder of ten Amish school children on Oct. 2, 2006, is written by Jessica Dickey and directed by Beth Harper (PAC’s Producing Artistic Director).  It is playing at their space, 1436 SW Montgomery St. (be aware, it is only street parking, so plan your time accordingly), through April 24th.  For more information, go to their site at www.actorsconservatory.com or call 503-274-1717.

One question that everyone would ask about such a senseless killing is…Why?!  But, as one character in the play proclaims, “there is no Why.”  Consider this, though, what if Evil is a real Entity, call it Satan, the Devil…whatever, and is able to take control of a conflicted person(s) for a period of time, in which it can create its mayhem.  In Capote’s powerful book, “In Cold Blood,” in which two young men kill a whole family for apparently no reason, he postulates that separately, neither of these troubled personalities would have done this ghastly crime, but the combination of the two created an evil persona that took control.  Could something similar have happened to Eddie Stuckey, a milkman and father of two?!

Much of this tragic story is presented like a Greek Chorus, which takes on a collective spirit in order to inform, comment on, and/or drive the plot forward.  Two of the deceased girls, the precocious, Velda (Sophie Foti) and the budding, younger sister, Anna (Sami Pfeifer), tell their story of a happy, carefree life in which they are just becoming aware of themselves and the wider world.  From there the story  jumps around in time and space, seemingly randomly.

We hear a local professor, Bill North (John Corr), provide information to the news media (and us) as to the way of life of the Amish and their shunning of modern conveniences and only minimal contact with the “outside” world.  But, although not Amish himself, he seems to have a special relationship with them, and with one young man in particular, Aaron (Jacob Camp).  We also hear from one, Hispanic, teenage, store clerk, America (Ahna Dunn-Wilder), a Catholic girl, as to her encounter when trying to help a woman in trouble.

And, of course, there is the distressed wife of the killer, Carol (Paige Rogers), who now must raise her two children by herself and has no real means of support, but finds solace coming from a most unusual source.  There is also the accusatory neighbor, Sherry (Tara Paulson-Spires), who just loves to point fingers, as someone must be blamed for letting this happen.  We hear from Carol’s husband, Eddie (Danny Diess), attempting to fill us in on his earlier life.  And Seth Witucki and Hannah Quigg, fleshing out the ensemble of reporters and townspeople.

I really can’t tell you any more, as there are a couple of surprises in the story, one dealing with how small a world it really is at times.  Are there any revelations as to motive?  No.  One of the final thoughts in the show, which is common in horrific incidents like this, as to where is God in all this.  But, as one character notes, keep looking for Him…He’s here.  Or we might be reminded of one of Anne Frank’s final entries in her diary that, despite all the horrors this young girl experienced in a Nazi Concentration Camp, she still felt that people were basically good.  Wow!

And, of course, one burning question left unanswered…mainly because it is personal.  As Harper, the Director puts it, “Is forgiveness even a possibility?...I really don’t know.”  I would agree.  But, I would add, carrying negative vibes about you for the rest of your life will only eat you up from the inside out and leaves no room for Love.  So somehow, each of us, in our own specific way, needs to come to grips with it and be part of the solution, not the problem.  Hatred only breeds hatred.

Harper has done a masterful job of starting slowly and letting the tension build to its emotional crescendo.  Her artistic influence on these students is evident and it shows in their carefully modulated performances.  And Tim Stapleton’s simple but effective set is a real asset to the production, as well as Jessica Bobillot’s costumes.  I have touted Dunn-Wilder in her performances before and she again shines here, too.  A real talent.  But Rogers, as the killer’s wife, is a powerhouse of emotional turmoil.  By the end, she has not only probably drained her energy but ours as well.  She is terrific!

I recommend this show.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.