Jessica Dickey is giving such an extraordinary performance in “The Amish Project” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater that she makes it easy to overlook something else: the play is also a remarkable piece of writing. Ms. Dickey the actress has herself to thank for the compelling material; she is also the playwright.
The success of the piece is all the more impressive because any description of it sends up a “cheesy exploitation” red flag. The play is inspired by the killing of five girls in a hostage-taking at an Amish school in Lancaster County, Pa., in October 2006, yet beyond a few facts drawn from the incident, it is fictional; the characters are imagined by Ms. Dickey. It’s as if someone offered a drama called “Personal Stories of 9/11 That I Just Made Up.”
But any trepidation is dispelled almost as soon as the lights come up on Ms. Dickey, wearing traditional Amish dress nicely complemented by Lauren Helpern’s sparse set.
Ms. Dickey, under Sarah Cameron Sunde’s direction, is completely convincing as she switches among the play’s seven characters. That is no easy feat, since those characters include both the gunman and two of his young victims.
The play, of course, is built around the cataclysm inside the school, but Ms. Dickey visits that only obliquely. She is far more interested in the side dramas that tie her characters together, which she draws out beautifully and in unexpected ways as she explores the theme of forgiveness.
Bill North, a local college professor, seems to be in the play mostly to provide exposition, but in one of the work’s sublime touches, she turns him into something else entirely. And what’s that Hispanic grocery clerk doing in this story? A lot, as it turns out.