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One Woman, Seven Lives

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Thursday, August 21, 2014
Daniel Elihu Kramer photo

Guess what this is that I’m drawing,” says six-year-old Velda. “It’s Jesus.”

“Man Enters Amish Schoolhouse and Opens Fire,” says the CNN headline.

“Some woman came up to me in the grocery and said, ‘If you were a decent wife, those poor girls would be alive today’,” says the shooter’s widow.

“This tragedy happened to a very private people,” says the local religion professor.

“I know what you’re thinking,” says 16-year-old America, Puerto Rican and pregnant. “You’re thinking I don’t belong here.”

“I like the kind of flowers that smell, and the color blue,” says the gunman. “I’m more than the Why.”

“Sir, please shoot me first,” says 14-year-old Anna.

All these lines are spoken by one person in The Amish Project. Jessica Dickey’s play is a fictionalized exploration of a 2006 incident in Pennsylvania Dutch country, where the local milkman entered a one-room schoolhouse and shot the 10 girl students, then himself. Told through an interlocking series of first-person narratives, it’s performed at the Chester Theatre Company by Allison McLemore (pictured), who embodies each character with subtle shifts of stance, gesture and tone of voice.

It’s a tour de force that also underlines an implicit theme of the play—that all these lives were entwined in the moment of violence and its aftermath, when the “English” community reeled with guilt and recrimination, while the Amish offered forgiveness to the gunman and comfort to his family.

Through Aug. 24, Chester Theatre Company, 15 Middlefield Rd., Chester, 354-7771, chestertheatre.org.

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