How can everything be so wonderful when the sons of Jacob (played by William Zielinski) and Esther (played by Blair Sams)was killed in an accident? This production is layered with tragedy, empathy, and loss beyond anything anyone can imagine. Playwright Chelsea Marcantel and director, Noah Himmelstein made the play to center around an Amish couple who deals with the shell shock of the man, Eric who killed their sons shows up to ask to be turned in and then gets forgiveness. Everything is wonderful….
Let me say that I am from Lancaster Pennsylvania and this play was spot on. The way that the Amish live where they don’t necessarily want outsiders in is real. Though they go into town now and again for jobs the thought of allowing an outsider to live with them to pay off the debt of this imaginable tragedy is almost unheard of. However, the dynamic that Eric (played by J. Hernandez) provides is hard to watch. Although in the regular world even if you gift forgiveness which is always about you and not the receiver, I’ve yet to see forgiveness be so layered that you would work hand in hand with an individual that took your sons. The emotions of that would be too much. Speak. Forgive. Forget. These three words are the binding. The art of saying what happened, forgive the act, and forget is too much and is almost like its own character within this production.Everything is wonderful…
Bishop Makes the Rules
The Bishop makes the rules. He’s like the judge and jury all wrapped in one. The Amish have their own ways of dealing with tragedy whether it extreme like the deaths of Jacob and Esther’s son where the community comes in and aids to the tragedy rape of their eldest daughter, Miri (played by Katie Kleiger). The Bishop is the one who sets the tone. That tone is one that I know well of even in Lancaster that if an Amish goes to the police even if the accused is wrong, the community will show up and rally against the one who speaks out. Just last week there was a case in Lancaster where a grandfather had been raping his granddaughters and was found guilty. Yet the ones who had “left” who knew all too well how these tragedies are swept up had to rally behind those who spoke up. The community of Amish who still allow Bishops to dictate and make light of such offenses were far numbered by those who were there in support of the abused. I wasn’t taken back by the portrayal of her rape being one of dismissal. I know it happens. It is still happening. Everything is wonderful…
Shunned and Alone
This production did a great job highlighting Miri’s loneliness. As she decided to go after being baptized and coming back unwilling to repent of her “sins” kept Miri on the outside. Think about it. They allowed the man who killed their sons to sit at the table but gave their daughter plates on the porch. Amish take their church and the “purity” of it seriously. It didn’t matter if Miri was family if she didn’t want to align with the beliefs she would be excommunicated. This is real and against what people will write about still happens. I know of ex-Amish in my circle who can’t go back to their “home” or families unless they denounce their “worldly” ways! Imagine being Miri and knowing that no matter what you say or do no one in the community will even look at you. Beyond that your own parents are treating you like an animal. Jacob and Esther need to continue in the ways of the community and if that means shutting Miri out then so be it! Everything is wonderful….
Abram and Ruth
Now I spoke of the rape of Miri and it was by the hands of Abram. He however stood and made a speech to ask for forgiveness and was granted it. He was able to go on sort of speak. He is back in the community after taking what didn’t belong to him. Why didn’t Miri just go along with all of this? Why didn’t she just speak, forgive, and forget? Who is she that she shouldn’t wear her badge of dishonor quietly? Did Abram really go on? Was he not aware everyday of his sins? Now he has eyes for Miri’s sister, Ruth. Talk about keeping it in the family. Ruth is a pleasant young lady who is content. She has no desires like Miri to see beyond the community. Abram doesn’t deserve such a precious gift that Ruth (played by Stephanie Hodge) is. Although Ruth is sweet, eager, young, and full of expectation I saw Ruth as smart and calculating. She loved life but she saw both sides. She in my opinion was the most alone. Here she sits as the one who is willing to obey and stay in line, but she was smart enough to hear. She heard her sister when she spoke. She saw the ways her parents treated Miri and she knew it was wrong. Her parents so caught up in their grief and in their jolting mannerisms to make sure Miri was kept “out” Ruth knew. Everything is wonderful….
Although won’t give the ending away what I will is the way in which the production team allowed for the stories at times to be mirrored was beautiful. it flowed in and out of each other sometimes at the same time and other times separately. It was easy to keep track. The times that the characters like we do in real life have these set back moments was real. The drift from reality to our subconscious was in full display. It was great and I was surprised at how well it went.
I was happy to hear that they touched on mental illness. The lineage of which Esther and her mother and now Miri was finding herself dealing with was real. It made me wonder did they have the mental illness as something that we all have a touch of from just life or did the confines of this “community” and all the rules and ways they live produce it? As Esther is destroying the eggs I knew. I knew that beneath her composure she was losing it. A mother not able to mourn her son’s death properly is now sitting next to the man who took their lives. Her daughter was feeling like no one protected her when she was raped, and she too had dealt with her own layers and I knew. All of this “we are okay” facade was just that a sham. There was no way that she was ok. Everything isn’t wonderful although they must wipe their pain away. What I will say is there is a movement in Lancaster where since Amish don’t like outsiders in, they are building their own mental health facilities. It sounds good on the outside but is being met with harsh criticisms. They are being called places where the ones who speak the truth on what is happening are being sent to keep quiet. They are being managed by little Bishops who don’t have the eyes of getting help but are there to keep institutional the ways of quietly sweeping the sins of the community under the rug.
Everything is wonderful
Everything is wonderful if you go along. Everything is wonderful if you don’t desire more. Everything is wonderful if you comply. Everything is wonderful if you the viewer go and see this production for yourself. It is eye opening. Although some saw this story as such a beautiful story of forgiveness its about being eye opening and will challenge you in what true forgiveness is and what it looks like. Do you have the real capacity to forgive? Can you call someone who you have had an issue and make true recompence? This production is jarring, eye opening in, and a wild ride that may make you squirm with uncomfortableness.
I had a conversation with the playwright, Chelsea Marcantel and I let her know that not only did she do a great job on being specific to the ideals of what being Amish is she did a classy job writing it so that it didn’t dishonor the Amish. It wasn’t a way to leave and say I can’t stand them. To be honest although a glimpse into their ways are so different, you won’t fully understand. However, it is a call to action on some of the stories that were being told. It validates the struggles that many who have left have known for years. That peace comes at a price. This peace is a journey. Being able to call a spade a spade may seem natural to an outsider but doing so in their community means that you will never have the love and understanding even from those closest to you. Remember that when you want to speak ill of them unless you speak up on the sins that they do that we all should be apart of that conversation. As warm as they are and as they try to have their own lives, it’s the lives of those who are within that I hope is wonderful. Everything can’t be wonderful when you conceal and don’t heal!
The night was wonderful…
Philadelphia Theatre Company is always a classy place to be. The reception when you walk in is unmatched. Not only was I greeted with a smile, I was also greeted with help. Help to get my coat, to take pictures, it’s a truly hands on experience when you are at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre. All staff are welcoming and light. I will say I was honored to be at the theatre for the opening of Everything is wonderful. They have such great opening parties. From the live music, to greeting the artist and staff, and the food and drinks are always a treat.
You have your own chance to see this production as its slated to be in motion until March 8, 2020. The Suzanne Roberts Theatre is located at 480 S. Broad Street in Philadelphia PA.
The play is about 2 hours and 20 minutes with a 15-minuteintermission. As always, they have an assortment of wines, and drinks and they also now have food by Di Bruno Brothers too.
They have “Free Talk Series” coming on Thursday February 20, Tuesday February 25 and Thursday February 27th which is after the shows and a pre-show and post show on February 25th. They will feature some amazing speakers who have studied Anabaptist faith, etc.
Thank you to Philadelphia Theatre Company, Carrie Gorn, and Aversa PR for having me. I look forward to always supporting the arts in any way I can. Get your tickets here and sound off and let me know when you see it so we can talk exclusively about it in the comments section!