CATF Review: ‘Everything is Wonderful’ | The Frederick News-Post

photo credit: Seth Freeman photography

by Lauren LaRocca | Published 7/20/17

As is usual with Contemporary American Theater Festival productions, the play “Everything Is Wonderful” asks more questions than it answers.

Can the grace of God, or the passage of time, heal all things?

Is it possible to forgive and forget on demand?

And, rather than “forgive and forget,” is there value in remembering?

Chelsea Marcantel’s play, set in an Amish community, begins with a knock on the front door of the household of Jacob (Paul Deboy) and Esther (Hollis McCarthy), who have recently lost their two eldest sons in a crash. Eric (Jason Babinsky), standing on the other side of the door, is the man who killed them on the road, and he has come not only to seek forgiveness but to request the couple press charges.

Instead, they take the boy in. They’ve already forgiven him, they say. After all, not only is forgiveness ingrained in their religion, but they go through a formal process when someone wishes to seek forgiveness. That person stands in front of the community and confesses what he or she has done, and the community forgives them, and they do so almost unthinkingly, no matter what the crime. A sense — and responsibility — to forgive is instilled in them from a young age.

Eric, undoubtedly aimless and recently sober as a result of the crash, quickly embraces the simplicity of Amish life and finds value and purpose in a way he hadn’t while working at a marketing firm in Philadelphia. He is given a place to sleep in their barn, eats meals with them and their youngest daughter, Ruth (Lexi Lapp), and quickly begins to take on yard work and other small tasks around the house.

A few days into Eric’s stay, Jacob gives him a new outfit to change into, a symbolic gesture not only because Eric is, if only temporary, becoming part of the family, but because of the color itself: green, a color everyone in the family wears — as well as a neighbor boy, Abram (Lucky Gretzinger), the only additional character we’re shown in the community — and a color that brings to mind naivety and gullibility.

Is it simplicity that is attractive to Eric, or turning a blind eye to reality? The title itself serves as a commentary.

Everything is not wonderful. Far from it. Two young (and we can assume innocent) men have just died in one fell swoop, and Jacob and Esther’s eldest daughter, Miri (Jessica Savage), has recently left home, renouncing Amish life (for reasons revealed late in the play).

As Jacob utters “everything is wonderful” throughout the production, we can assume it is a favorite catchphrase of his, something he says to subdue any emotion that may stir in his heart or in that of others. This blanket statement is used repeatedly in lieu of communicating real feelings.

The family’s Christian beliefs bring order to the world but along with that, rigidity. They seem to handle the process of forgiveness in the same way they fold their laundry: there is a right way to do it, they are taught, and it becomes methodical.

The set design reflects this fixed mentality as well, with simple, straight wooden lines, parallel and clean, representing their home, while just outside are tall walls on either side of the house, which are made of metal shovels that have been bent to form organic lines, an aesthetic that combines the messiness and hard work of digging in the dirt (literally and figuratively) with the naturalness that comes with curvature.

Through themes of forgiveness, repression and faith, Marcantel and director Ed Herendeen also explore the complicated nature of how the past affects the present and how experiences, emotions, people and situations affect one another in the grand picture of life.

An effective tool used to show this is two or more scenes being acted simultaneously on separate portions of the stage. Sometimes we are shown past and present together, sometimes dialogues that are happening simultaneously in real time but in different locations.

It’s this overlapping that ultimately reveals a shared commonality among all the characters — how they have all wronged and been wronged, how they all hurt, how they all seek forgiveness for something.

“Everything is Wonderful” runs through July 30 at the Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. See catf.org for details.

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