Autumn is here. Yes, it's not yet Labor Day, and no one is wearing sweaters (except indoors at cold offices), but the theater season has opened. "The Amish Project", by Jessica Dickey, kicks off the ninth season for Mustard Seed Theatre.
Somewhat based on the Amish schoolhouse shootings nine years ago, it gains an accidental resonance with ideas that make us remember the on-air shootings in Virginia this past week. Dickey describes it as "a fictional exploration of a true event", and in her program notes says that she was careful not to research any of the people and families actually involved in that shooting in order to preserve boundaries, and thus privacy, for them as much as possible.
There is, of course, no avoiding the horror of the event. But it was the Amish community's response to the shootings that drew Dickey and that she gives us as part of the story.
So it's complex, yes. And, amazingly, simplification comes from what could be even more confusing: This is a one-person show. Amy Loui plays seven different people. To put it simply, she is quite marvelous, There's never a question about which character she is, so vividly are they delineated. She doesn't change costume, which is a blue dress with a severe white pinafore and an Amish cap, to become, for instance, a college professor at a news conference. We quickly become attuned to who she is. Dickey's characters, only one of whom is Amish, are crafted to help with that. She's done enough homework, for instance, to draw on the fact that the Pennsylvania Dutch country around Lancaster and York, where the event occurred is home to a considerable number of Puerto Ricans.
Beyond Loui's acting, it's interesting to see how the differentiation is achieved. First, I think, is the work of voice and dialect coach Richard Lewis. Kyra Bishop's set and Michael Sullivan's lights work in tandem to mark changes smoothly. Even the props of Meg Brinkley add to the effect.
Director Deanna Jent has orchestrated a fine evening - brief, 85 minutes, and no intermission, but it's packed with thoughtful, engrossing work. Welcome to the new year.
The Amish Project
through September 13
Mustard Seed Theatre
Fontbonne University Fine Arts Theatre