In 2006, in the Amish village of Nickel Mines, an armed man entered a school and barricaded himself inside keeping as hostages only the girls. In the ensuing shootout five girls age six to ten died. Then the man turned the gun on himself and committed suicide.
The response of the Amish community was consistent with their vision of the world that does not know any form of “why”: full forgiveness of the attacker who snatched the life out of precious flowers still in bud, and deep compassion for his family.
So the day after the attack, a composed procession of Amish people paid a visit to the man’s house, bringing food, undertaking the impossible task of comforting people before then unknown to them.
The episode, in its simple directness, forces a nation like the United States, where shootings and other incidents of gender-based violence have become with time as close as an evil neighbor, to deal with a theme of painful light: forgiveness.
What is it? Where does it come from? From which point on can it be considered mere insanity perhaps dictated by a religious belief? Up to what point can it be sincere?
The road to a drama of theses is avoided by the author of the text Jessica Dickey, freely inspired by true facts, by boldly refracting the episode into different points of view.Seven characters surround the event in its brutal directness and reflect it in fragments of sharp light.
Seven is a significant number, as in the colors of the light spectrum, as in the days of the week which are also those of creation. It’s a number that expresses the whole, but also introspection and the ability to descend into the depths of the silence of the earth.
A synthesis of opposites, seven is the number that looks for a balance, but is also, magically, a symbol of the need for human perfection.
Considered by the Pythagoreans as a sign is holiness, seven was defined by Plato “anima mundi”.
I wonder if the author had in mind the complex symbolism behind its choice, as she began working on the script.
The fact is that the path of the narrative follows (perhaps also for anthropological reasons that often escape the will of the writer) this clear painful progression, that is magnified by her choice to assign all seven voices to a single actor. Incidentally also a woman.
The montage of these stories – that intersect one another at the beginning in a flat manner, then gradually more frantically as the story proceeds – does not follow a chronological order, but advances in accord to free internal associations in a game of puzzle work and freedom of movement of material that is more musical than strictly narrative.
The result is a composition of almost cinematic flavor that demands a complex tour de force of the actress.
On the one hand, she must be able to portray each character in an essential and immediately recognizable way. Consider that the transition from one role to another tends to be fluid, almost always “in legato”: which becomes quite a task when the segments of the individual characters tend to become very short and shrink, especially near the end, to only a few words.
On the other hand, she is constricted into a convulsive management of her space, where the scene is limited simply the black box, and she has only one object she can use, a chair that nonetheless gives her the ability to work on multiple levels and heights.
Director David Connelly from Atticrep (Texas) chooses to wear the text like a glove, following its unfolding with a sober and never invasive use of lights and music. It’s an essential direction that allows to reverberate in the dramaturgical space, what in the text is a complex game of mirrors.
The entire directorial act rests, ultimately, on Sarah Gise’s performance, a young but talented interpreter .
Gise plays each and every character with extraordinary empathy, and is able to play with the sympathy for Velda (a six year old girl who introduces herself on stage and tells about her difficulty writing the letters of the alphabet) or for Carol (the wife of Tom, the attacker, torn between the anger for being the murderer’s wife and the desperate awareness of not being able to stop loving him in spite of everything).
Thus the clarity of the directorial act matches the depth of the actor’s performance, both in search of another impossible balance between the two opposites of horror and the light of forgiveness, while still allowing the text to preserve its problematic view and to offer the public an open question, to be debated and to be absorbed.
And if the end gives the viewer a vision of a mystical and divine light, the relighting of the theatre brings us back to our present confusion and uncertainty.
In the knowledge that, if there is a road that can help us find forgiveness, it still remains fraught with thorns that tear and wound. For seven, after all, is also the number of the last words of Christ on the cross.
Translated from italian
(The Amish Project)
Text: Jessica Dickey
Direction: David Connelly
with: Sarah Gise
Production: Atticrep (Texas)