Thursday, September 29, 2011


"The Amish Project" ... this weekend only!

Remember how shocking the news of the Nickel Mines shootings of Amish children was five years ago – Oct. 2, 2006? And, afterward, remember the amazing stories of how the Amish both forgave the gunman and offered condolences to his family?

A fictional exploration of the aftermath of the shootings, “The Amish Project,” will be presented this weekend ONLY at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre. Friday night’s performance is a benefit, with a reception preceding.

Sharon “Sharona” Mellinger, who has lit up the Ephrata Performing Arts Center stage for years as a director and actor, is directing this profound piece of theater Friday, Sept. 30, through Sunday, Oct. 2.

Sharona recently described the play to EPAC board Vice President Jim Ruth: “This is not a re-enactment. It focuses mainly on the aftermath of the horrible crime. There is nothing graphic, but there are some uncomfortable ideas expressed. All of the characters are fictional, although representative of both the Amish and the English communities.”

While playwright Jessica Dickey’s “The Amish Project” was originally performed as a one-woman show in New York, EPAC’s production assigns an actor to each role.

Kayla Hall and Lauren Elledge will portray Anna and Velda, two of the young Amish victims.

Matt Good appears as Eddie Stuckey, the gunman, and Matt’s real-life wife, Kathy Robb, is Carol Stuckey, the gunman’s widow.

Paola Gonzalez will play America, a young Hispanic grocery clerk; Robyn Payne appears as Sherry, a non-Amish neighbor, and Larry Gessler will play Bill North, a scholar on Amish culture.

Friday night’s 7:30 p.m. performance is a benefit for the Children’s Miracle Network. Tickets for that performance are $24 per person, and include a wine-and-cheese reception from 6-7 p.m. Thanks to Hershey Medical Center for sponsoring the evening!

Tickets for the other two performances – 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1, and 2 p.m. Oct. 2 – are $15 for adults and $8 for students with a current ID.

For tickets and information, visit the website or call the box office at (717) 733-7966, Ext. 1.

-- Mary Ellen "Merv" Wright

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


Photo by Andy Babin, for the Sharadin Bigler Theatre


Alan Strang, a 17-year-old boy in Britain, keeps a picture of a horse in his room. He likes horses so much that he has taken a job mucking out stalls at a local stable.

And, for reasons unknown, this boy who likes horses has blinded six of the animals with a metal spike.

A magistrate who has been dealing with Alan’s case sends him to a psychiatric hospital, where Dr. Martin Dysart must try to find out the reasons behind the boy’s heinous act – and try to help him heal. Alan’s condition sets Dysart on a voyage of self-discovery, as well.

So begins “Equus,” Peter Shaffer’s marvelous, challenging play, which the creative team at the Ephrata Performing Arts Center is unbridling and allowing to gallop upon the Sharadin Bigler Theatre stage beginning Thursday night.

OK. The horse puns stop right here. This play is too deep, too layered, too thought-provoking for that.

This is definitely a play for grownups, and not just because of the famous nude scene involving two of its characters. The late New York Times theater critic Walter Kerr said it well when he called the play “… a psychiatric detective story of infinite skill.” I’d definitely recommend this play for mature audiences only; it is psychologically complex (though eminently accessible); has full male and female nudity in one scene, and employs some curse words throughout.

I saw one of the final rehearsals of EPAC’s production, directed by Elizabethtown College theater professor Michael Swanson, and found it fascinating and moving. I saw the play years ago in Lancaster, but had forgotten so much about how beautifully Shaffer makes his plot unfold. With each piece of information, we tread farther into the psyches of Dysart, played by EPAC artistic director Ed Fernandez, and Alan, portrayed by Jeremy Ebert.

The play is about so many things: self-awareness, religion, parenting, pathology, envy, the things that influence a child’s psychological development, the Big-Question thoughts that can plague people at mid-life, and so much more.

Who is the patient here, and who is the counselor? Is Dysart practicing the healing, or harming, arts?

And then, there are those cool horses! They’ll come to life, right before your eyes, with headpieces and hooves -- and equine movement choreographed by Cody Smith.

The interesting, multi-functional set is by E-town College’s Richard Wolf-Spencer, and the lovely, effective lighting is by New York designer Josh Starr (who happens to be the nephew of EPAC regular Bob Checchia). More on the creative team in future posts.

You can see the rest of the cast listed here.

If you love to open your mind to Tony Award-winning, challenging and interesting material, “Equus” will be a great night at the theater for you. It opens this Thursday (Sept. 8) and ends Saturday, Sept. 17.

Call the EPAC box office, 733-7966, Ext. 1, or visit the Website to order tickets.

Stay tuned in the next few days for more blog posts about all the great fall events at EPAC.

-- by Mary Ellen ("Merv") Wright