One Woman, Many Voices

one-woman show examines shooting at Amish school

by Zack Katz, photos by Andrea Paulseth

DRAMATIS PERSONA. Molly Barnes performs all seven roles in Downstage Left’s production of The Amish Project, which delves into a shooting in Amish country.
DRAMATIS PERSONA. Molly Barnes performs all seven roles in Downstage Left’s production of The Amish Project, which delves into a shooting in Amish country.

Eau Claire’s stage scene is teeming with musical and comedic excellence. What it’s less known for producing, though, is true-to-form drama.

With his theater production company Downstage Left, Jake Lindgren is progressively working to fill that void. The UW-Eau Claire grad’s latest venture is titled The Amish Project, a play written by Jessica Dickey that is derived from the true story of a 2006 school shooting in the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pa.

Lindgren said he tends toward subject matter that focuses on the human condition and life’s grey emotions.

“I like to be challenged as a creator and I like to challenge my audience in turn. I don’t want people to get up and leave and simply go on with their lives. ... I think they would ideally see themselves in a character.” – Jake Lindgren, director of The Amish Project, a one-woman drama

“I like to be challenged as a creator, and I like to challenge my audience in turn,” Lindgren said. “I don’t want people to get up and leave and simply go on with their lives. … I think they would ideally see themselves in a character.”

Lindgren’s goal is to turn the audience’s focus away from the glare of the shooting and instead to the settling of the dust in its wake. He said the play’s characters are meant to show the Amish community’s response in terms of their forgiveness and grace. 

“It’s representative of the fact that we’re all in this together,” Lindgren said. “It’s still something we’re affected by without a direct connection to the event.”

The Amish Project is a unique effort because of its remarkable minimalism. The play features a sparsely decorated stage, no costume changes, and seven characters – all of them played by one actress.

Molly Barnes is the star of the show. She will assume the role of the two Amish sisters killed in the shooting, the shooter and his widow, two bystanders, and a professor who acts as the link to the “English,” as the Amish refer to non-Amish townsfolk.

Barnes will represent all of these characters in a single Amish dress throughout the play. She said her portrayals show the multiplicity of ways to manage grief.

“It kind of helps us all look inward to how we would handle it, how we see it from different points of view,” Barnes said. “You’re seeing the same physical being as all of these characters, and I think that helps drive the point home.”

The play is composed of a series of monologues delivered by seven unique characters. Although there is no true character interaction, the play scales upward into a climax of lines rapidly cycling through the different voices.

Because Barnes plays each of the characters, it is incumbent on the audience to look past the minimalist stage presentation and concentrate on her mannerisms and acting skill. She said half of the battle is fleshing out distinctions between characters for the audience.

“We’re just in the beginning stages where I’m spending time getting to know each of these characters,” Barnes said. “It’s a special challenge.”

The Amish Project is Lindgren’s second go at directing a one-person play after putting on 21A last fall, a performance that showcased nine characters.

Lindgren said that without the typical ensemble to rely on, the single-person cast puts more pressure on the actor to develop the play.

The redeeming quality, Barnes said, is the pair have a great deal of interpersonal collaboration ahead of them. Lindgren will assist with dictating stage and lighting cues, movement and prop interaction. Without a large cast, the duo have more creative freedom to shape The Amish Project’s direction as they see fit.

Downstage Left presents The Amish Project • Friday-Saturday, June 17-18, 7:30pm • The Grand Theatre, 102 W. Grand Ave., Eau Claire • $15 • show intended for age 16 and older • (715) 832-7529

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