The Amish Project sheds light on the power of radical forgiveness

The play follows the aftermath of the real life tale of a gunman walking into an Amish schoolhouse and shooting eight schoolchildren

Image courtesy of Julia Siedlanowska

By: Yelin Gemma Lee


The Amish Project is a play that takes on the difficult and often controversial of being an art piece about a criminal of the the Nickel Mines shooting. While fictional, it is a deeply moving play based on how the Amish families were affected by it in Pennsylvania 13 years ago. Instead of anger, the Amish families shocked the world when they chose the challenging path of radical forgiveness to heal as a unified community.

The play focuses on the ripple effect that this forgiveness had in the lives of all that were affected — including the family of the shooter. The Amish Project by Jessica Dickey was originally written as a one-woman show, but it has now been evolved by director Angela Konrad into a dynamic all-women cast of four actresses playing seven characters.

The set consists of pastel sheets in various sizes and layers draped on clothing lines, along with five chairs — a minimalist concept to draw focus onto the character’s dialogue and the simplicity of the Amish lifestyle. Scenes of different characters’ stories come together slowly and purposefully along with the play’s message of how forgiveness and grace helps bridge the disconnection that happens in the face of trauma, violence, and grief.

A big part of this play and its most powerful scenes is the repetition of phrases and first-person narratives is. The play is neither violent nor graphic, acknowledging the event of the shooting through the repetition of the phrase “Man enters Amish schoolhouse and opens fire.”

The sound effects of the play were very minimal, and I loved that it displayed the power of words to convey the severity of a trauma without having to reenact the experience onstage. The acting was incredible, and had to be as the play was stripped down and entirely driven and carried by the acting itself.

The play humanizes Eddie, the shooter, by giving him a full character and by giving us a fluffy backstory on how he met his wife and how normal he was in his daily life. I found this aspect of The Amish Project, where artistic space was made for the perpetrator of the violence that traumatized a community, to be rather unsettling and uncomfortable to watch.

The Amish community is placed in the position of the othered in this script through the absence of the Amish people being given characters. The play focuses on the perspectives of witnesses from outside the Amish community’s perspective with only the whimsical characters of the two Amish schoolgirls to give us that first-hand cultural perspective. With the knowledge that Jessica Dickey did not interview any of the individuals involved in the actual incident, I think it was an appropriate call, but it was still strange to see that the Amish were othered in their own story.

The Amish Project asks the question “How could the Amish forgive such a thing?”.  The answer seems to be that the way that the Amish could best heal as a community was to abide by the teachings of their faith in the most difficult of times. The play seemed to intend a “live by example” kind of message in how to react to other tragedies of violence through mentions of many tragic stories similar to this shooting.

Although I strongly disagree that passiveness and forgiveness is the most effective way towards reconciliation and the healing of a community, I was able to look past my clashing beliefs and see the play for what it was. The Amish were able to extend immense compassion that helped heal themselves and the family of the shooter. Overall it was an intense, interesting, thought-provoking production to watch and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

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