Even in a world of smartphones and instant communication, the life of the Amish remains something of a mystery. The fine new drama “Shunned,” getting its world premiere at Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre in Mars Hill, peels away some of those layers to reveal that all is not what it seems with these quiet and reserved people.
Written by Larry Parr and ably directed by Jessica Phelps West, “Shunned” benefits from a superb cast that includes SART regular and standout Chris Allison as the tough family patriarch Aaron Yoder, who is determined to keep the old-world Amish traditions, no matter what the cost.
The story mostly involves his teen son Levi (Allen T. Law), who must choose between family and faith or exploring the great outside world he knows nothing about. Levi’s growing interest in theater, and his friendship with gay innkeeper Mark (Iain Alexander), presents a growing split with Aaron.
Rounding out the family are mother Katherine (Traci Gardner), once a famous painter, who gave up art to marry but was never really accepted as an equal. The innocent antics of playful daughter Mary (Shelby Folks), eventually lead to a family crisis.
Another solid SART veteran, Kay Galvin, is the aging Sarah Miller, an Amish gossip who has wormed her way into this family, and Daniel Henry is a one-time community member now banished and anxious to seek revenge.
Throughout Parr’s story is the threat of being shunned — thrown out of the Amish world temporarily or for good. It’s a powerful punishment for these simple people whose lives are built around their religion and close relationships. The play starts quietly but builds in intensity. There’s a big, somewhat predicable plot twist that turns this bunch upside down.
Allison’s strong performance as Aaron dominates the show, but the others are equally believable, with Law getting most of the lines and dramatic moments. Alexander’s smaller performance as the gay Mark is another solid turn.
“Shunned” is a fine beginning to the 40th professional SART season which will see two more world premieres at historic Owen Theatre at Mars Hill University.
IF YOU GO
What: The original play “Shunned” by Larry Parr, co-winner of ScriptFest 2012.
Where: Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre, Owen Theatre, Mars Hill University campus.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Thursday and Sunday, through June 22.
Tickets: $26.56 plus fees via www.sartplays.org, or call the box office at 689-1239