The Amish Project ag­o­niz­ingly good

Keat­ing’s one-woman show grip­ping tale of girls’ deaths

Waterloo Region Record - - ARTS & LIFE - Va­lerie Hill, Record staff

WATER­LOO — In the emotionally gru­elling mul­ti­ple roles de­manded by “The Amish Project,” Amy Keat­ing is sim­ply mes­mer­iz­ing.

The one-woman play is based on the true story of Oct. 2, 2006, when milk­man Charles Roberts walked into an Old Or­der Amish school­house in Penn­syl­va­nia, took 10 girls hostage and mur­dered five be­fore turn­ing the gun on him­self, leav­ing be­hind his own shocked fam­ily and a com­mu­nity both out­raged and in deep mourn­ing.

Their story is told through the eyes of half a dozen fic­ti­tious char­ac­ters.

In a post-play ques­tio­nand-an­swer pe­riod, Keat­ing ad­mit­ted she knew very lit­tle about the story, ex­cept for a few faint mem­o­ries from news fea­tures.

She was also un­aware of the play or the Amer­i­can play­wright, Jessica Dickey, but this proved to be an ad­van­tage.

Keat­ing was able to start from scratch, to chan­nel her own ideas and bring each of the char­ac­ters to life. This she does ex­cep­tion­ally well.

Within a few min­utes, Keat­ing has the au­di­ence’s rapt at­ten­tion, as she switches from one character to the next, from one of the mur­dered Amish girls, to a his­tory pro­fes­sor who speaks to the com­mu­nity on be­half of the Amish, to a farm woman who blames the mur­derer’s wife for the car­nage: If only she’d been a bet­ter wife this would not have hap­pened.

Each character pro­vides a unique view­point and the ac­tor’s abil­ity to switch from one character to the next is grip­ping with­out ever get­ting maudlin.

Most in­te­gral to the story is the hu­man­ity of each character, even the killer, Roberts, who had been a mar­ried man, a car­ing fa­ther of two lit­tle boys.

The play does not try to pro­vide any an­swers and even as the Amish com­mu­nity vows to for­give the killer, there is no judg­ment passed as to whether this is truly pos­si­ble.

How could any­one truly for­give such a hor­ren­dous act?

The Amish Project, di­rected by Matt White, is a Cana­dian premier and the in­au­gu­ral pro­duc­tion for a new the­atre company, Green Light Arts, in co­op­er­a­tion with the Univer­sity of Water­loo’s drama depart­ment.

A small company, Green Light is us­ing a stu­dio space at the Univer­sity of Water­loo’s Hu­man­i­ties The­atre, a space that al­lows for a unique level of in­ti­macy with the ac­tor and the story.

JOEL MIESKE, SPE­CIAL TO THE RECORD

Amy Keat­ing’s grip­ping per­for­mace at UW’s Stu­dio 180 The­atre is mes­mer­iz­ing.

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