On October 2, 2006 gunman Charles Carl Roberts IV, the local milkman, entered the one-room school house in the Amish community of West Nickel Mines, PA ordering the teacher and boys to leave before taking 10 girls hostage. As emergency responders closed in Roberts began shooting the victims before turning the gun on himself. When the situation was over five girls were killed and five suffered from injuries. In the hours, days and months following this horrific event, the Amish community offered forgiveness and compassion toward the family of Charles Carl Roberts IV; comforting his widow, children and other members of his family, including attending his funeral and establishing a fund to help with expenses.
In The Amish Project, a fictional examination of the shootings, writer and performer Jessica Dickey dives into the world and culture of the Amish community and the true limits of forgiveness and compassion. Dickey portrays seven characters impacted by this event ranging from victims, the shooter, his widow, a store clerk and a community spokesperson. Each person distinguished by subtle vocal and body language differences.
In her examination, Dickey contrasts the general differences between the Amish community and the outside world…no or little electricity, lack of modern appliances, no modern world conveniences. They live a simple life and are not necessarily privy to the events happening in the media saturated world we live in.
As I listened to the dialogue and reflected internally on what I remembered from the shootings I began to wonder, at what point do we as a society learn forgiveness and compassion towards the perpetrator? If the Amish community of West Nickel Mines were so easily able to show forgiveness and compassion toward Roberts’ family while grieving the loss of their daughters and innocence of their community, when do we as a society demonstrate this forgiveness and compassion in other situations? We often villainize not only the one(s) responsible for the events but also their loved ones too. If there is anything the residents of West Nickel Mines, PA can teach us is, the world is full of too much evil and life is too short for hatred.
The Amish Project is a conversation starter which can translate to other communities and situations. Which makes this the perfect piece to be included in the Guthrie’s new curated series Singular Voices/Plural Perspectives a new initiative from Artistic Director Joseph Haj.
Performances of The Amish Project continues through February 14 in the Dowling Studio. For more information on the show or to purchase tickets, visit the Guthrie’s website.