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The Amish Project

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When you've got as much acting talent as Jessica Dickey does, you can sit around and wait for someone to give you a role which will exploit that talent -- or, if you've got her playwriting skills, you can come up with the role yourself.

And so she has. City Theatre presents Dickey in Dickey's The Amish Project. It's a one-person show about the 2006 Lancaster County shooting of 10 Amish schoolgirls.

Dickey's one hell of an actress, and though I know it's beyond touristy to say this, watching her lightning-quick changes from one character to the next is a big part of the evening's thrill. Calling to mind the vocal command and physical flexibility of that über-chameleon Lily Tomlin, Dickey creates fully realized and differentiated people onstage. And since scenic designer Lauren Helpern has created such a purposefully monotonous look for the show, Dickey's ability to create so much variety is a blessing.

But, to tell you the truth, I just wish I could have enjoyed the evening more. Well, considering that it's a play about murdering children, maybe "enjoy" is the wrong word. Maybe I wish I could have felt more involved.

Dickey uses the well-worn formula of the stage documentary. (Even the show's title calls to mind one of the leaders in the docudrama canon, The Laramie Project.) But then she invents freely and, it has to be said, wildly. Little we see in this 60-minute play is actually true: She's either made up characters or, where people actually did exist, she's invented new personalities. The play runs aground when Dickey not only invents dialogue and characteristics for one of the little girls, but also has her speak to us from heaven. It is, unfortunately, as maudlin as it sounds.

Let me rush to say that I'm absolutely not accusing Dickey of exploiting this unfathomable tragedy. She's obviously been as stricken as anyone by the shootings. It's just that I think she made a couple of artistic choices which, in the final analysis, haven't landed the way she intended.

 

THE AMISH PROJECT continues through May 8. City Theatre, 1300 Bingham St., South Side. 412-431-2489 or www.citytheatrecompany.org

Jessica Dickey in The Amish Project - PHOTO COURTESY OF GEOFF GREEN

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