I am ordinarily not much of a fan of one-person plays, which are ever more ubiquitous these days because they are the cheapest plays to produce; but I like Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre a lot, so I wasn’t going to hold it against them that they’re ending their season with a monodrama, in this case The Amish Project written and performed by Jessica Dickey. In fact, I was eagerly anticipating this one, because I have been hearing some very good things about it.
About three years ago, a man invaded an Amish schoolhouse, expelled all the boys and proceeded to shoot the girls. This tragedy inspired Dickey to spend time in Pennsylvania talking to the locals, Amish and non, and the result is this collection of monologues in which she plays seven characters in all. I was surprised, and grateful, that Dickey does not indulge in pop psychology to explain away this horrific event. She is more interested in its effect on the lives of the people affected by it – including the wife of the shooter. This all coalesces into a question too inscrutable for our secular culture to fathom: how could the Amish, whose children were murdered, forgive their murderer and try to assist his wife?
As is Naomi Wallace’s Things of Dry Hours at New York Theatre Workshop. This takes place in the 1930’s in the deep south and concerns a negro communist agitator who lives with his daughter who don’t give a hoot about the revolution. A young white man arrives on their doorstep, claiming to be on the run from the bosses’ goons and asking for sanctuary. Reluctantly, it is granted, and the agitator proceeds to try and educate his guest in the philosophy of communism as expounded by Mark and Engels in The Communist Manifesto and by God in The Bible.
Of course, the daughter falls for the guest and, of course, its revealed he’s not who he says he is. This sounds kind of dull; but Wallace’s scenes are taut and dramatic. She only falters when she resorts to narrative monologues directly addressed to the audience. The play is bookended with these, which are unnecessary and, well, boring.
The cast, under Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s rather languid direction, works wonders with this intense, occasionally turgid play. Delroy Lindo is magnificent as the black communist and Roslyn Ruff is fierce as his angry daughter.
THE AMISH PROJECT. Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre. 224 Waverly Pl.
TICKETS: www.smarttix.com. 212-868-4444.
THINGS OF DRY HOURS. NY Theatre Workshop. 79 E. 4th St.
ENSEMBLE STUDIO THEATRE MARATHON. 549 W. 52ND St.