Monday, June 23, 2014

Indiana Dispatch - June Fourth To June Fifteenth - Part Four"

NOTE:  This post was mistakenly published on Friday, along with another post, creating too much to read for one day.  I have no idea what's happening.  I go away from ten days and I completely lose my mind.  Hopefully, it will come back shortly.  In the meantime, if you read this on Friday, read it again.  If you didn't, look!  A new post!

 It intrigued me that an Amish organization was putting on musicals.

Upfront Apology:  Not being a reporter and being too shy to act like one, I did not investigate the underlying situation.  Plus, for me, it is more fun to make things up than to actually find things out.

This part is true.  There is an Amish community living in and around Nappanee Indiana about an hour’s drive from our cabin, unless you get lost going there which we always do, in which case it’s longer.

“Amish Acres”, about a mile West of Nappanee, is a kind of Disneyland with beards and bonnets (although the only “ride” they provide is a horse-drawn carriage.) There you can experience a religious community shunning modernity, get a glimpse into the Amish lifestyle and purchase homegrown confections (such as Apple Butter and the “Bread of the Month”) as well as Amish-themed souvenirs, manufactured, most likely though I did not check to make certain, in Asia. 

There is also an expansive dining hall where you can partake of authentic, hyper-carb Amish cuisine (Dr. M’s chicken and noodles was served over a generous helping of mashed potatoes), which includes a gravy so thick, it will clog your arteries before dessert.

Speaking of dessert, “Amish Acres’” signature dessert is “Shoo-Fly Pie”, so named because it is so sweet, it attracts flies, and… that’s right – you have to shoo them away.  (This factoid came to me courtesy of my pilates teacher who though a Calvinist, she nonetheless seemed to know.)

I enjoy dining at “Amish Acres.”  Though I find it a Divine Irony that The Good Lord made food that can stop your heart dead in its tracks taste so incredibly delicious.

Also on the “Amish Acres” premises – incongruously to my uneducated understanding – is The Round Barn Theater, a transplanted 60-foot high former agricultural facility that is now the home of what the complimentary program touts as “the best of Broadway’s Golden Age of Musical Theater.”  A bold claim, one would think, considering how many “Golden Age of Musical Theater” revivals there are running on the actual Broadway.

Our local Michiana theater, the Dunes, which is only a quarter of a mile from our cabin, having fallen on hard financial times, has been reduced to mounting only a single production (rather than an entire season), playing later in the summer.  Looking to assuage my regional theater appetite, I was inevitably attracted to “Amish Acres’” Round Barn’s Theater production of Footloose – The Musical.

And here’s where the speculation begins.

“The Round Barn Theater” is a part of the “Amish Acres” presentation.  Blending in, both structurally and paint-color-wise, with the fellowship’s non-urban motif, it would appear to be an integral component of the overall operation.

Mid-Post Confession:  Virtually everything I know about the Amish comes from the Harrison Ford movie “The Witness” (1985.)  Being Amish, however, it is doubtful that all that much about them has changed over the past 29 years.  Or possibly ever.

Meaning no religious disparagement, merely responding to the (cinematically derived) evidence, the Amish appear to be an austere organization who reject current conveniences, and, I assume, current morality as well.

And yet here they are, hosting a production of a musical (based on the movie of the same name) whose dramatic thrust involves a rebellion against a behavior code that proscribes – among other illicit activities – dancing.

Frankly, this contiguity of Amish and musical theater confuses me.  First of all, as a practical matter, if the Amish themselves are not allowed to dance, who exactly is dancing in their musicals?  Where, I wondered, did they find people who are going to hell to take on the dancing roles in their production? 

I imagined the conversation:

“Wouldst thou be interested in dancing in our musical?”

“Am I still going to hell?”

“Absolutely.  But since thou wouldst be going to hell in any case, thou wouldst be losing nothing by doing so, whilst at the same time helping us out with our production.”  (NOTE:  I don’t even know if they talk like that.  If they don’t, I apologize for misrepresenting their patios for comedic purposes.)

This reminded me of what my grandmother used to tell me about religious Jews hiring neighborhood Gentiles to turn on the electricity for them on the Sabbath, avoiding perdition by sparing them from having to engage in that unacceptable behavior themselves.  The situations seemed similar.  In one case, it was lighting the oven.  This time, it was surrogate dancing.

I double-checked this apparent conundrum with my daughter Anna, who immediately set me straight.

ANNA:  “The Amish can dance.”

ME:  “Who can’t dance?”

ANNA:  “Quakers.”

The two of us, in our ignorance, embroiled in a conversation akin to two monkeys discussing the Internet.

MONKEY ONE:  “Does it have anything to do with bananas?”

MONKEY TWO:  “I don’t think so.”

MONKEY ONE:  “Then I have absolutely no idea.”

The monkeys exhibiting a level of humility entirely absent from the conversation between myself and my daughter.

Unanswered questions abound.  Why are the Amish putting on musicals?  Why are they doing this specific musical, which is a direct contradiction to their fundamental(ist) beliefs?  And what about the costumes?  Will the minister’s rebellious teenaged daughter kick up her heels wearing a handmade dress that goes down to the floor?

For all I knew, this was some kind of “Amishized” adaptation of Footloose – The Musical, one in which the unbending minister persuades the outsider-newly- arrived-in-town to stop dancing.  Or perhaps they appended a cautionary coda to the production, possibly as simple as an actor in a “Devil” costume peering through the window at the climactic debauchery, rubbing his hands together and cackling maniacally.

I had no idea.  But I was curious.  BSo I persuaded Dr. M to go, a woman who dislikes virtually all musicals and was unlikely to be won over by a semi-professional rendering brought to life by the Amish.

Disappointing Resolution Pretty Much On All Counts

(So you know I know.) 

Footloose – The Musical was only marginally enjoyable.  (The performers, I later learned, were in fact not Amish at all, but were recruited via auditions conducted earlier in New York City.) 

For some reason, the ”Amish Acres” presentation houses (and shares financially, I would imagine) an enterprise that mounts musicals, some of them like the Amish-themed Plain and Fancy (1955) for which The Round Barn Theater is reputedly the “national home” as the show has been playing there regularly since 1986; others, musicals (like the current one) that are directly oppositional to traditional Amish doctrine.  (Which I repeat I know nothing about, but having witnessed the suggestive choreography in Footloose – The Musical, I cannot see how the Amish people would approve.)

I departed this experience harboring more questions than answers.  Dr. M, on the other hand, had only one question:

“Why did we drive two hours (because we got lost for an hour) for this?

Having instigated it, I accepted responsibility for this less than satisfying experience.  But deep down, I, at least to some extent, blamed our local playhouse, the Dunes. 

If they had not fallen into financial insolvency, we would not have had to resort to the Amish for our theatrical entertainment.


John Book said...

Well, it is re-run season. I enjoyed "Witness" & in fact, I may re-watch it now that you've put it near the forefront of my nearly empty mind!

JED said...

One of the scenes I really enjoyed in Witness was when the young Amish boy was looking around at all the strange sights and foreign people in the Philadelphia train station (before he became The Witness) and happening to see what he thought was an Amish man in the distance. As he comes around to see the man's face, we see he is is an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man who is dressed similarly to the Amish.

So many religions have groups who want to stop progress in order to prove they are devout. But it always interests me in how they decide which time it is that is the "correct" time to stop progress.

I think I may be sounding like the monkeys discussing the Internet, though.