Sarah Gise shifts her voice and body language to change characters.
February 13, 2016
An unspeakably horrifying event
occurred in 2006 at an Amish school
in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania: Five
girls were shot to death (five others
were injured) by a lone gunman who
then killed himself. A few hours later,
a group of grieving Amish visited the
killer's widow to express their
forgiveness. Moreover, the
community shared with her a portion
of the funds donated to them in the
In her extraordinary one-woman play
The Amish Project (2008), actress
Jessica Dickey used the fictional words of persons who were affected by the tragedy as a means of addressing it. The piece is the latest offering of AtticRep in the Carlos Alvarez Studio Theater at the Tobin Center.
San Antonio native Sarah Gise, a 2007 graduate of North East School of the Arts (NESA) who earned a BFA in theater from the University of Southern California in 2011, delivers an astonishingly virtuosic performance as she makes seamless, lightning-fast transitions among seven very different voices. With a child's cheerful chirp, she becomes a bouncy, precocious six-year old who loves to draw, then gives us brief glimpses of her more serious teenaged sister, who has out-of-body experiences. We soon realize that both sisters were among the dead victims.
Ms. Gise hunches her shoulders to become the world-weary cigarette-smoking “English” (non-Amish) woman who resents her neighbors and questions their genteel ways, then stands erect to become an expert on Amish culture who explains their customs to reporters at a press conference. The key to their forgiving nature, he says, is that they believe God's will to be foremost – everything in life is ordained.
Ms. Gise portrays a pregnant Latina teenager who is a grocery store clerk, shifting to the distraught widow of the gunman, whose emotional defense involves an obsession with ingredients in moisturizing lotions. Her voice becomes dark and chesty as she becomes the killer insisting that he will never say why he committed the crime. Throughout, she ping-pongs back and forth to be the children or neighbors or whomever, often with just a couple of words or a brief phrase before leap-frogging elsewhere.
The capable director is David Connelly, Ms. Gise's high school drama teacher, who keeps the pace taut on Jeremiah Teutsch's spare set with its single wooden chair and open, suspended-slat side pieces. Expertly conceived lighting by Tim Francis helps to clarify the action, as does the effectively atmospheric music and sound by Cole Wilson. Also from San Antonio, he is identified in the program as a 2004 graduate of NESA who is a composer and installation artist.
Unfortunately, a biography of Ms. Gise, who now makes her home in Chicago, was omitted from the printed program. (Thank you, Google.)
With its singularly inventive, well-structured script and near-flawless production values, memories of “The Amish Project” are likely to be reflected upon and treasured for a long while.
“The Amish Project” runs through Feb. 21 at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. Call 223-8624. www.tobincenter.org
AticRep: The Amish Project
A slaughter, and then forgiveness
(Hover to expand image.)
Sarah Gise plays seven distinct characters.Photos by Siggi Ragnar