What does forgiveness look like? That is the question at the heart of Chelsea Marcantel's play "Everything is Wonderful," now playing through May 12 at WaterTower Theatre in Addison.
Two characters, Miri played by Kelsey Milbourn and Eric played by Seth Magill, exemplify different perspectives of forgiveness. Miri is the eldest daughter of an Amish family, excommunicated five years prior to the action of the play. She returns home upon hearing of a car accident that killed her two brothers.
Her family receives Miri with little enthusiasm, and festering secrets resurface when she encounters Abram, a young Amish man who is the reason she left the community.
"She comes back for her brothers and to help her family, but it slowly becomes a process of forgiveness and healing and speaking her mind and her truth so people will listen to her story," Milbourn said.
Miri discovers her family has taken in Eric, the driver who caused the accident that killed her brothers. He approaches the family, asking them to press charges. Instead, the family's patriarch, Jacob, forgives him and lets him sleep in the barn and work on the farm.
"A lot like Miri, he's on a path to reconcile with his past and find a new future for himself. He's using it as a means to try to gain recovery from alcoholism and the mess he's made of his life," Magill said.
Through the lens of the Amish faith, Miri and Eric navigate the intricacies of forgiveness and the contradictions of this misunderstood culture.
"You get kind of a mirror-effect between Miri and Eric. Eric immediately gets that forgiveness. He's a receiver. And he gets a seat at the table. Miri, as a victim and because she can't forgive someone that she feels hasn't been given true justice, she is ignored. She is silenced," Milbourn said. "She is not able to live within the community."
"What's beautiful about the play is you get to see both sides: the beauty of the religion and how quickly forgiveness can just be so merciful and lovely and truly unbelievable. You don't even see forgiveness like this. And then the other side is this lack of listening, this lack of true communication and actually solving things that are very personal. It's kind of a reflection of this #MeToo era now. We're starting to get a voice out, but people are still victim-blaming," Milbourn said.
As he works on the farm, Eric finds solace and feels closer to God than ever. Raised Catholic, Eric's faith has been a label, not a lifestyle.
"It's something that you did, but it wasn't something you were. It was something you said about yourself, but it wasn't something you lived," Magill said. "He didn't know religion could be or that it could be profound or that it could permeate your life or become what your life is."
Eric enjoys the work and the quieter Amish life. He begins to romanticize the lifestyle. He thinks this is the quick fix to his alcoholism.
"In our modern society, we're so quick. We want the magic pill. I want to feel forgiveness right away," Magill said, reflecting on his character's desire to rush to redemption.
Jacob warns him forgiveness is a long journey, reminding Eric of the family's view of him as an outsider. "You're somebody that is heartbroken, and we need to forgive and help repair and then send you on your way," Magill said.
Having grown up in the Amish community, Miri's faith is rooted in simplicity, but there are aspects of the faith that concern her. "She sees God in the small, simple things," Milbourn said. "It's all the extra rules and the straight lines in her faith that don't make sense."
After the incident with Abram, Miri feels betrayed by her community and her family. Returning home means confronting Abram.
"The interesting and hard thing about this play is that you do get to hear Abram's side, which most people, especially right now, will not want to hear. The truth of the matter is these two characters, Miri and Abram, they actually were in love. They actually did love each other, and everything was going to be this beautiful connection between these people. It was only because he had a lack of information, a lack of knowledge about consent," Milbourn said. "It only took a moment to ruin Miri's life."
The confrontation is an opportunity to learn from a painful past. "Forgiveness starts with communication and grace," Milbourn said.
On April 23, Shane Peterman announced WaterTower Theatre's 2019-2020 season, his first season as the theater's Producing Artistic Director. "Our goal is simple: to build community through diverse storytelling that is both thought-provoking and entertaining. Our 24th season focuses on unique stories across generations, emphasizing the importance of diverse backgrounds and the communities from which these stories are told," Peterman said in a statement about the new season.
The season includes "Sister Act," a musical by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater (October 24-November 10); "Cirque Holidays," a co-production with Lone Star Circus (December 5-22); "Harvey," the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Mary Chase (February 6-23); "I Am My Own Wife," the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama by Dallas native Doug Wright (April 16-May 3); and "The Bridges of Madison County," the romantic musical by Jason Robert Brown and Marsha Norman (June 11-28). A limited run of an additional musical will be announced later.
Learn more about "Everything is Wonderful" and WaterTower Theatre's 2019-2020 season CLICK HERE.