As It Is In Heaven isn’t quite a Shaker musical, although there’s plenty of music and even dance in it. It’s a fascinating story of women in a Shaker community in 1840’s Kentucky. The Shakers were a religious community of both men and women, segregated by gender, founded by Mother Ann Lee. Lee believed in both song and dance as spiritual practices, so they’re an integral part of this drama.
These women living in community are headed up by Sister Hannah, Amy Loui, whose seconds in leadership – one chooses not to use the word “command” - are sisters Betsy, Alicia Reve Like, and Phebe, Mary Snitzler. Six sisters, three young ones and three who’ve obviously been there for a while, complete the group.
It’s very difficult to talk about which performances stand out, because this is excellent ensemble work. Laurie McConnell is Sister Peggy, and she leads the singing and dancing, which is very casual and imperfect the way you’d expect it to be, especially considering the shoes of the era. Leslie Wobbe’s Sister Rachel was once a Methodist, she points out, calmer and stalwart. Sister Polly, Amanda Wales, has what seems to be a smoldering anger.
Among the newer sisters who haven’t signed their covenant yet, rather like final vows, is Sister Jane, Jenelle Gilreath, who cries every night once the lights are out and seems rather strange. Then there’s Christina Sittser, Sister Izzy, very young and impulsive and perhaps a little challenged intellectually. Sister Fanny, Patrice Foster, is grateful to be in the community, a hard worker, but she goes off by herself, beyond the meadow, every so often.
All the actors do yeoman work, albeit of very different kinds. The play, by Arlene Hutton, is a fascinating picture of group dynamics, the ebb and flow of humanness. Cameron Tesson’s set feels appropriately Shaker simple, accented by Bess Moynihan’s lights. Jane Sullivan designed the costumes. It’s all pulled together in splendid fashion by Mustard Seed’s artistic director Deanna Jent.
If you’re coming for the first time, the entrance to the parking lot is actually on Big Bend Boulevard; the theater is in the building on the south side of the lot.
One act, no intermission, and fascinating. Go.
As It Is In Heaven
through March 31
Mustard Seed Theatre
6800 Wydown Boulevard at Big Bend