Theater review: Amy Loui shines in ‘The Amish Project’

In a virtuoso performance, Amy Loui delivers an emotionally complex character study of seven people connected to the 2006 Nickel Mines shootings.

“The Amish Project” is a fictional account of lives affected by a gunman taking aim, shooting 11, killing five girls, inside a one-room schoolhouse.

The Amish culture has been respectfully explored by playwright Jessica Dickey, as she depicts the grief of the real-life event.

She has molded seven people with kernels of truth, including two sisters killed that day — precocious, rambunctious Velda and the gentle, mature older sister Ana.

The interpretations of Carol, the widow of the gunman; Sherry, a local busybody; and America, a teenage grocery store clerk, round out the other perspectives.

Two males — Bill, a professor acting as spokesman for the Amish families after the tragedy brings the outside world to the old order’s door, and Eddie, the dairy truck driver gone beserk, who then killed himself — are handled with aplomb by Loui.

The fluidity and range Loui provides for each characterization is simply stunning. In quicksilver fashion, she switches gears, as the play is non-linear, but you always know who she is.

Director Deanna Jent has shrewdly staged the vignettes, and Michael Sullivan’s astute lighting design adds dramatic effect.

Dressed in a simple Amish outfit, designed by Jane Sullivan, Loui commands the stage with an earnest poignancy.

The set designed by Kyra Bishop is striking as well, a modest school setting that allows the horror and heartbreak to surface.

The play’s potency is sneaky. Through the vivid vignettes, we learn aspects of the Amish way of life, the strong family ties in the community, and how people try to make sense of things too horrific to fathom.

The forgiveness of the Amish people is a major element of the work, for the playwright is awed by such grace.

The finale packs a powerful wallop, and one can only marvel at Loui’s talent for creating such nuanced portraits.

She deserved the lengthy standing ovations, for her moving work is not only unforgettable, but one of the finest performances in recent years.

At a glance

What: “The Amish Project”

Who: Mustard Seed Theatre

When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday through Sept. (Thursday is pay what you can with cans of food)

Where: Fontbonne University Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd., Clayton, Mo

Tickets: www.mustardseedtheatre.com; 314-719-8060