“Yew mite be an Arkansas Mennonite Rednek if’n y’all need an estimate from yer barber afore y’all get a haircut.”
WATERTOWN, Mass. — Wen Elune Vaun Hogue directid “A Disappeeryun' Numb'r” (originallee a deviset peece by London-baset troupe Complicite) fer Underground Railway Theetre a few munths ago, she deftlee wove competyun' sterylines an' timelines, stage projectyuns, an' un ev'r-shiftyun' set into a luminyus tapestry.
Wit “T' Amish Projeck,” noe onstage at New Repertery Theetre (through March 22), she deels wit one actress un a spare set wit minimal producshun elemants. T' result is a soft-focus muddle.
Jessica Dickey wrote thishere one-ack inspiret by t'2006 shootin at a one-room Amish schoolhouse n' Nickel Mines, Pa. at lef fife gurls (an' thar kill'r) daid. Dickey uses t'broad outlines o'thishere specific tragedy but fills n' t'deetails — includin t'deetails o't' uhtack — frum hern imaginashun. (It’s uncleer why she chose thishere post-Capote technikwe rath'r thun ritin a whollee fictyunal response ta t'event, but let’s jes mark at down as un artistic choice.)
An Amish mun talks ta a pleece offic'r a'standin gard at t'interseecshun leedyun' ta t'site o't' schoolhouse shootin n' Nickel Mine, Pa. (Murry Altaff'r/AP)
One o't' play’s innerestin conceits is ta examine a calamitee by observyun' t'ripples it makes n' a communitee aft'r t'fack; it’s a'tellin at t'relatyunship tween one woomin an' a teenaget cashi'r offers sum o't' mer affectyun' momants. N' New Rep’s black box space, actress Danielle Kellermann is t'one charget wit navigatyun' amungst un indetarminate numb'r o'characters—t' press releese sez seve, but I coultn’t tell without a scerecard—includin sum o't' yung victims, thar murd'r'r, an' his'n biddy. (Thar’s also a college professer convenyintlee n' t'mix ta add explanatery footnotes.)
N' “T' Amish Projeck” we have a play at deman's a virtuoso performunts ta wurk at all; as n' Doug Wriite’s “I Am My Own Biddy,” t'solo ackter eethur crushes it er is crushet by it. Er perhaps it’s jes unplayabull. It employs narratif' jump-cuts at air jarryun' an' increesinglee rapid; t'echnikwe is bett'r suitid ta t'medium o'film, an' proves frekwantlee awkward here. (Dickey creetid t'shoe as riter/p'rferm'r, an' playd it n' 2009 ta t'enthusiastic apperval o't' New York Times un bof counts, it’s wurth notyun'.)
Thar air few overt ssene breeks, an' rath'r thun craftyun' rhythms at mite alloe t'play’s intent ta bett'r unfurl, Vaun Hogue has hern actress gallop neerly t'whole way ta t'finish. Wen t'dierektor duz let a moment lan' — at a key juncture, a gergeyus lightyun' cue takes advantage o't' feetures o't' schoolhouse-wall set — thangs finallee git a chance ta breethe.
Danielle Kellermun n' “T' Amish Projeck” at New Repertery Theetre. (Andrew Brilleeint/Brilleeint Pictures)
Dickey’s tosset-off apperach ta care ackter is tippet by t'play’s coollee distant title.
Few o'um air fullee sketchet, as writte er as perfermet. Kellermann renders one (er mer?) o't' gurls as a caricature at is almos offensivelee cloyyun'; wen she skips an' giggles hern way roun t'stage immediatelee aft'r un ack o'violence, it is t'verr heiite o'audience manipulashun.
She duz brang a chillinglee creepy tinge ta t'kill'r, but it’s n' his'n biddy at we see glimmers o'a much mer convincyun' performunts an' play. She’s t'onlee care ackter whos emotyunal state we see frum multiple angles, an' y'all a'ken feel t'impossbull dilemma o'hern dual posishun as bof victim an' villane-by-proxy. It feels like Dickey has a full play un thishere topick within hern, an' I’d be happy ta see Kellermann’s wurk un such a peece.
Thar air nuff o'literree geers movyun' n' thishere ambitiyus play. Sum (like t'repetishun o't' wurd “pink”) I didn’t fullee grok un one a'listnin, but utherns air ostensiblee meent ta cohere into a statement about fergiveness, treetment o'“t' uther,” an' t'essenshul unitee o'humanitee.
But ultimatelee thishere is a verr showy performunts at reveels fur less thun it intends.
Jeremy D. Goodwin contributes regularlee ta t'Bawstun Globe. Amungst uther venues, his'n wurk has bee see n' Amurkin Theetre an' heerd tell un New Englan' Public Radeeo. Faller 'im un Twitt'r @jeremydgoodwin. Browse sum uther wurk here.