As Brené Brown puts it, “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.” Shame and forgiveness are central themes in the play “Everything is Wonderful,” now showing at Everyman Theatre in Baltimore. This is a beautifully written story that coalesces dark and raw matters of the heart while, perhaps inadvertently, unmasking the servile tendencies humans possess with the cultures they belong to. All of the characters in this story demonstrate struggles with shame and all desire forgiveness for their imperfections. Playwright Chelsea Marcantel says the questions that emerged during the creation of this play had to do with forgiveness –which is, ironically, both easy and difficult, even for the Amish who have a “well of forgiveness” for outsiders.
I commend Everyman Theatre and all those involved in this production for showcasing this beautiful play – everything is wonderful about it.
“Everything is Wonderful” also delves into subjects such as loss and seeking redemption. As the story begins, we are introduced to Eric (played by Tony Nam), who shows up uninvited to the home of the Amish couple Jacob and Esther (played by Bruce Randolph Nelson and Deborah Hazlett). Eric is the driver of the car that accidentally plowed into the buggy carrying their two sons, Levi and Joshua, and killing them. Eric goes to the family looking for punishment but only finds they instead forgive him of his careless act. Eric remains there with the family, helping out on the farm and eventually earning a seat at the dinner table. It might have made everyone a little uncomfortable, but Jacob and Esther maintained their composure, trusting Eric’s presence as a test of their faith.
The Amish couple also have two daughters, Miri (Alex Spieth) and Ruth (Hannah Kelly), whose personalities may be polar opposites, but their desires for love and acceptance are equal in energy. While Ruth maintains a more bubbly, even immature, demeanor, her older sister Miri is fire and ice, exploding with outward dreams and erupts in displeasure at her family’s stance toward wrongs done to her at the hands of a love interest, Abram (played by Steve Polites). Miri leaves the Amish community only to return at the same time Eric plants himself in the family dynamics. Miri wrestles (sometimes vulgarly) with her family’s acceptance of Eric, the man responsible for the deaths of Levi and Joshua, while simultaneously not letting her back in with any welcome. On the surface, this appears as exclusivity of family, but what is fascinating is how the outsiders are truly categorized: one is by choice –as Miri left the rigidity of her life in the Amish community, and one is by birth and culture –as Eric is an Englishman from non-Amish traditions.
I absolutely loved this play, as evident by my standing ovation. It is rich in its storyline, which doesn’t fixate on any one element and explores the microcosm of life in Amish country, and its characters are so well constructed they may as well be real people. Bruce Nelson, a truly seasoned actor, is phenomenal and brilliant in his portrayal of the devoted, but torn patriarch, Jacob. Alex Spieth’s portrayal of Miri is quite exceptional, as her salty assertiveness is sometimes like a saccharine amenity. She exerts the anxiety of the character’s craving for belonging with one foot on and one foot off the edge of a steep cliff. Tony Nam as Eric is fantastic, providing inadvertent humor to help untangle the rising intensity between the family members. His character is both the lightning rod and the grounder, embodying what it means to find humility before seeking redemption. Hannah Kelly as the younger, sometimes silly Ruth delivered some well-timed one-liners that are blunt, but serenely funny.
Everyman Theatre is known for putting together some wonderfully mind-blowing sets. For this performance, simplicity ruled the day. It is fitting considering the nature of the Amish: simpler is better. Set designer Daniel Ettinger brings the simple wood farm look to the stage (all that was missing with the smell of farm animals). Costume designer Ben Argenta Kress did a superb job of bringing the stark contrast of the Amish and “outsiders” with such glaringly genuine attire. Director Noah Himmelstein deserves much praise for putting this performance together and telling the story with eloquence and authenticity. I commend Everyman Theatre and all those involved in this production for showcasing this beautiful play – everything is wonderful about it.
Running Time: Approximately 2 ½ hours with one intermission.
“Everything is Wonderful” is showing now until February 24, 2019. For more information and to purchase tickets for “Everything is Wonderful,” please visit the Everyman Theatre website by clicking HERE.