Thursday, February 11, 2016

Theatre Conspiracy Does it Again!

I've always fancied myself a thespian. In fact, back when I had a memory, I appeared in all of my high school and college theatrical productions. But somewhere along the line I lost my confidence amid nightmares of standing before an audience in a blank fugue state, not knowing what to say next.

Thanks to my parents, who were talented actors themselves, I grew up appreciating live performances of all kinds and southwest Florida is overflowing with options for theatre lovers. And though I love the big, blowsy musicals like "Evita" or "Miss Saigon", my heart is drawn to the small, local troupes that leave one speechless.

This past weekend Don and I had such an experience at the final performance of "The Amish Project," at the black box theatre at Florida Southwestern State College, formerly Edison State College. The theatre was tiny, the chairs crammed in for the overflow crowd. But the discomfort was immediately forgotten as we were pulled into the mind-blowing performance by actor Tera Nicole Miller, one woman who, in seventy-five minutes, portrayed up to ten distinct characters and made you believe that she was each one.

Theatre Conspiracy (, under the able management of actor and director Bill Taylor, has been producing plays here in southwest Florida for well over twenty years now and, though I'd guess that I've seen most of them and been impressed by many, this play and performance stood out. Written by Jessica Dickey (interview here ) the play is based on actual events that happened in 2006, when a gunman entered an Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, holding hostage and eventually shooting eight of ten young girls.

The incident is not known because of the brutality of the killings, but because of the amazing reaction of the local Amish population. Forgiveness. Like the members of the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston after Dylan Roof did his worst, the people in Nickel Mines gathered around the gunman's wife and family, bringing food, comfort and prayers that even she didn't believe she deserved.

The story is a beautiful reflection of what's best and noble in humanity but I don't believe you could get the full impact by reading the script. It has to be seen performed and Tera Nicole Miller put her heart and soul into this gut-wrenching role. From a ten-year-old schoolgirl with a lisp, to a Hispanic sales clerk in a drug store, to a didactic professor and media spokesperson of the Amish faith, and most terrifyingly, to the murderer himself, (I could scarcely make eye contact with her she seemed so evil), Miller owned each persona with just a shift in body language, facial expression, or vocal octave.

When the end came with a dramatic trick of lighting, the audience sat in stunned silence, a fitting tribute prior to the standing ovation.

More on books later in the week. Yes, I'm reading as fast as I can between changes in the longest home project on record. Next up in the theatre, "The Bluest Eye," by Toni Morrison. We'll be at the Foulds theatre on Sunday. If you're a local reader, you really should try to make it.

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