HEARTWOOD actresses Ellen Erickson Whalley, Mary Boothby and Nancy- Grace Dersham, from left, rehearse for “As It Is In Heaven,” which opens tonight at Skidompha Library in Damariscotta.

HEARTWOOD actresses Ellen Erickson Whalley, Mary Boothby and Nancy- Grace Dersham, from left, rehearse for “As It Is In Heaven,” which opens tonight at Skidompha Library in Damariscotta.

DAMARISCOTTA

A simple stage set in Damariscotta’s Skidompha Library allows nine women to share the intimacy of an 1830’s Shaker Village in Heartwood Theater Company’s newest production, “As It Is in Heaven.”

The play is written by actor-director Beth Lincks, under the pen name Arlene Hutton. Through short scenes sewn together, Hutton constructs a quilt of life within an intentional spiritual community during a time when Shakers embraced their largest membership.

If you’ve ever appreciated the beauty of a handcrafted Shaker box or the simplicity of Shaker furniture, your curiosity will be at home in the sharing of this women’s community.

The set pieces are sparse and easily moved to create the necessary tables, workstations and benches for any scene. The lighting magically generates the auras and sense of rural landscape.

The authentic costumes include white Shaker bonnets, which draw our focus to the essential human characteristics, undistracted by hair or adornment.

Although I’m sure this was the original intent of Shaker bonnets, I was surprised at how true this is. The lack of other distinguishing features forced me to look more attentively. The honest face and character of each woman actually shone forth with each bonnet.

However, the play is more than a glimpse of Kentucky Shaker life. It bears the bones of all humanity. These women have to keep feeding the chickens, cooking the meals, doing the laundry and sewing the clothes as just part of the endless tasks each of them contributes to maintaining the community.

While working, they share, gossip, dream, mourn, rebel, and try to be better human beings. Within the confines of their home, they are sharing one path while experiencing different personal outcomes.

They strive to achieve harmony yet are expected to believe one truth. This reality is mirrored in the words of one of the young members seeking to understand why they have to sing just one tune instead of many harmonious parts.

There were many reasons why members came to the Shaker life during its zenith. Many were there for spiritual connection; however, many began by seeking a safe refuge.

Orphans and abandoned children grew there. Many men and women came as an escape from poverty and found more than economic security. The simple dwellings became more than shelter.

Artistic director Griff Braley has woven his cast of nine women into a brilliant ensemble. Like the Shakers, to single out any one would be unwise.

Together they create our exposure and empathy toward their all too human reactions to spiritual aspiration midst the endless reality of daily life.

Alphabetically, they are: Mary Boothby (Jane), Nancy- Grace Dersham ( Peggy), Nancy Durgin ( Hannah), Abbey Hutchins (Izzy), Katie Matzell (Rachel), Millie Santiago ( Betsy), Elise Voigt (Polly), Ellen Erickson Whalley (Phebe), and Marjolaine Whittlesey (Fanny).

The specific story that unfolds among them hinges on the visions of one of the newest members. When she believes she sees angels, some of the other youth are affected as well.

So what happens to the sense of community when all don’t experience what some do? What does this mean about faith and devotion, especially for the elders who have offered their lives to this path?

These actresses expose the tension that exists within such personal intimacy, including the challenge of following the rules when full of doubt.

Times of joy and celebration abound as well. The women laugh and tease. Shaker dances and song pulse as their voices rise in praise of life and aspiration. And this cast sings like angels.

These interspersed musical moments felt as powerful as any of their dialogue and made me marvel at the power of multiple artistic expressions.

This production caused me to consider, “Ah, that we might just dance and sing together more often…” without the template of TV reality shows. What might happen if we would just resonate and move in praise for life?

Performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday, as well as on Jan. 27, Jan. 28, Feb. 3 and Feb. 4. Matinee performances are scheduled for 3 p.m. Sunday and Jan. 29.

Tickets cost $12 for students through high school and $18 for all adults. Seating is extremely limited and reservations are a must. Call 563- 1373 or email [email protected]


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