Amish Acres

Amish Acres® Historic Farm and Heritage Resort is Listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It is America's most complete Amish heritage experience featuring historic interpretation, culinary and performing arts, lodging, and shopping.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Roll the Dice and Roll with Life and Love in “Guys and Dolls”

Although I generally save the sermons for Sunday, let’s face it -- if a certain first century religious notable were to find himself transported to our times he would no doubt face criticism for seeking out -- and being seen with -- the denizens who partake in the Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap Game in New York.

And if he can believe that there’s hope for Pharisees and other assorted sinners, we shouldn’t be surprised the larger than life guys and dolls that inhabit the world of Damon Runyon might end up on the sinner’s bench as well.

Traditionally the organizations that license performances of big time musicals don’t allow changes in the script, and so the Round Barn has labeled this summer’s production of “Guys and Dolls” PG-13, but since we see from the scriptures that it takes real life flesh and blood sinners to make full-bodied saints like the apostle Paul, we should expect against this backdrop of the Prohibition era Big Apple that Miss Sarah Brown of the “Save-A-Soul” Mission would set her eyes on some really big fish that might well turn into even bigger saints.

But “Guys and Dolls” is no simple morality play. With music and lyrics by the inimitable Frank Loesser this musical moves from one unforgettable standard to another, like “Fugue For Tinhorns,” “A Bushel and a Peck,” “More I Cannot Wish You,” “Luck Be A Lady,” “Sit Down, You’re Rocking The Boat,” and of course the title song, “Guys and Dolls.”

In the musical Sarah Brown is out to save souls through the “Save-A-Soul Mission,” while gamblers like Nathan Detroit and Sky Masterson are hoping Luck will truly be the Lady she ought to be and change their fortunes.

Bringing the musical to life is Director David Craven, of Atlanta. Craven, who’s recently finished acting the role of Sam in a production of “Mama Mia,” emphasized that when it comes to “Guys and Dolls” it’s important to create living, breathing human beings out of the raw material of the caricatures taken from the original Damon Runyon story.

“I go always go back to analyzing the script. These characters are seemingly incompatible. I struggled at first to figure out what is the root of the play, and I came to the conclusion yesterday I think the root of this play is joy. All the characters are seeking joy in their lives and using whatever means to get them there.”

For each character joy comes from something different, Craven said. “For Sarah, she thinks being a member of the mission is going to bring her joy because she is saving souls. For Sky, gambling will bring him joy, Adelaide just wants to be married. Nathan thinks it can be found making money. But what they discover is that the thing that brings is joy is a relationship with someone else.”

For Craven it’s important that the characters are living in the same world. In this case that world is New York in 1932, right before prohibition ends.

“I’m loving this show,” he said. “I always love working for Dick (Pletcher). He's got such a good heart for theater. He loves designing sets. He has such a good heart for wanting to support artists because he is an artist.”

Friday, June 16, 2017

Kristen Brintnall IS Elle Woods in Legally Blonde

And she persisted….

Elle Woods failed to win the hand of the man she adored. She failed to measure up the standards of Harvard Law School. She failed to make a good impression the first day of classes. She failed to do the smart thing to insure future success as a lawyer. She believed she failed herself.

Still, she persisted!

“Legally Blonde,” playing at the Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres in Nappanee, subtly suggests there are no “safe” prejudices, no populations you can get away with turning them into caricatures. Every individual ought to be judged not by the color of their skin -- or hair -- but by the quality of their character.

Kristen Brintnall navigates a tricky course through Elle’s own self-imposed preconceptions of what is important or even possible in life. Brintnall’s Elle may at first seem shallow but over the course of the show she draws out a character with far more depth that Elle gives herself credit for.

Ryan Schisler has a daunting task in this show as Warner Huntington III but he’s up to it. As the villain of the piece he avoids the easy path of caricature by embracing future career goals that preclude Elle. Schisler’s portrait is by turns likeable but never lovable.

It is an axiom of acting that you should never share the stage with animals, but Oxford, who plays the role of Bruiser, is charming and a team player. As to whether Oxford is a diva off-stage who can say? He is not alone, however, with regards to canine casting.

I like the look of this show, including Ashley Alverth’s costume design, and the clever way the Richard Pletcher’s set pieces act as transformers, becoming by turn a dorm room, a court room, and a beauty parlor. Most impressive is the brisk pace set by director Mike Fielder. This show never lags. It moves briskly from scene to scene and song to song, without losing sense. The efficient scene changes also contribute to the effect. That’s important, because this is a fun show.

It’s also a large cast production, which fills the Round Barn stage with cleverly choreographed numbers.

Character transformation is key to good theater. Vivenne Kensington believably grows the character of Lauren Morgan, the “serious” alternative for Warner’s upward climb, into a more self-aware proponent for Elle. Ian Connor’s driven Emmett Forrest, who has known want, is able to unlock his will to succeed to include the possibility of personal fulfillment and love.

I hadn’t heard this musical before I attended the Round Barn production, but I enjoyed the music and never felt puzzled about what each song was trying to accomplish as sometimes happens in a first viewing. Kudos to the cast for making each song from beginning to end come alive. My favorite numbers, I must admit, were “Ireland” and its reprise, wonderfully sung by Katherine Barnes in the marvelous pull-up-your-big-girl-panties role of Paulette Buonufonte.

Special shout out to Martin Flowers who plays God’s Gift To Women twice, portraying both sides of the coin as Dewey and Kyle, to great comic effect.

 “Legally Blonde” is a You Go Girl musical that demonstrates that life ought to be a meritocracy. You’ll cheer for Kirsten Brintnall as Elle Woods because despite her travails, she persists.

And she prevails.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

“Plain and Fancy” enters its fourth decade

Local folks in Elkhart County quickly realize that children permeate every aspect of Amish society. It is taken for granted that Amish children, whether at home on the farm, in the family business, or on trips to the market or other errands, are carrying their share of the work load not because anyone’s forcing them to, but because it’s natural for everyone in the family, from the oldest to the youngest, to play an active part.

Of course Amish children also play; but then, so do their elders. And we see that element of work, play, and belonging in this year’s thirty-first edition of “Plain and Fancy.” This flagship production at the National Home of “Plain and Fancy” includes the talents of Amelia Lowry, who plays the role of the child Sarah Miller.

Lowry has become something of a regular at the Round Barn Theatre in recent months. In “Plain and Fancy” we see her playing, working in the kitchen, helping with the chores, as well as mischievously watching everything to do with the star-crossed lovers Katie and Peter. She’s the one, even when Peter is shunned, who is willing to hug him, and who rejoices when he is restored.

Director Amber Burgess artfully weaves together the parallel worlds of Amish men and women. The two circles intersect at their society’s predetermined places, but the Amish men and women also have their own separate communities.

Although Amish society seems strictly patriarchal, Kristin Brintall’s incarnation of Katie Yoder is not afraid to make it clear that there will be a conversation between her and her father. Rather than being simply acted upon, this Katie Yoder directs the action is subtle and occasionally not-so-subtle ways. And thanks to her strong voice cutting through “Plain We Live,” we recognize that Katie Yoder has religious as well as personal integrity.

I appreciated David Goins successful portrayal of Papa Yoder. We not only see this patriarch firmly uphold the faith, Goins also makes it clear that Yoder loves his daughter, and all the people of his family and community. There is joy here as well as a stiff backbone. 

The relationship between the brothers Peter (Martin Flowers) and Ezra (Ian Conner) Reber is always a difficult one to portray. It verges on Cain and Abel and it is only with difficulty that it veers closer to the eventual reconciliation between Jacob and Esau. I like Conner’s take on the brother who usurps his brother’s place at the altar, at least temporarily. Although he gets what he wants in the first act -- the farm, the girl, and his brother banished, there is clear regret on his face during the barn raising.
Flowers has crafted a character who is flawed, but earnest, and certainly loving, a brother who in the end desires more to save Amish honor that let his brother become a prodigal.

Don Hart returns as Isaac Miller, who serves as something of a Greek Chorus to the action. Hart’s wry yet practical outlook is a bedrock of his characterization. This, along with Katherine Barnes’ version of his spouse Emma Miller provides the rock that acts as conscience and anchor for the embattled Yoder family. There’s also their comedic and deft advocacy for the Amish lifestyle in their song, “City Mouse, Country Mouse.” 

At one point it was author Joseph Stern’s intention to center the musical around the character of Hilda Miller. Through Laura Morgan we see Hilda escape from her parents suffocating expectations as well as her illusions about “English” life, returning with integrity and a little more dignity than earlier productions.

My favorite directorial choice was the decision to have the New Yorker Dan King snap a photograph of Hilda (on a wonderfully genuine antique camera) rather than kiss her on the forehead. Indeed, Ryan Schisler’s King may be a little dense, or perhaps unperceptive, when it comes to Hilda and Ruth Winters’ attraction for him, but we see King genuinely regretting the way his attempts to make things better backfire. He and Mikaela Brielle, who plays Ruth Winters, also from New York, have a strong chemistry between them. Thanks to Brielle, Winters projects sensuality and a gently frustrated sexuality which allows her, like Katie, to assertively take control of things when it is time.

The set changes look smooth and well-practiced. Costumes, lighting, and other technical aspects of the show seem natural. Get out to enjoy “Plain and Fancy” this year as it enters its fourth decade, because even if you’ve seen it before, you’ll see it in a whole new light in 2017.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Nobody's Perfect

During his acceptance speech at the 2016 Tony Awards, Lin-Manuel Miranda recited a sonnet he’d written that said in part, “Love is love is love is love is love is love is love, cannot be killed or swept aside.” Despite its rather arch title, the current Round Barn musical, “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” might be better described by Miranda’s poem.

In twenty sketches spanning two acts and a couple of hours cast members Rory Dunn, Josey Miller, Lauren Morgan, and Ryan Schisler portray love in all its twists and turns, in success and failure, and as experienced in the several different ages of life. The quick costume changes demonstrate the clear design of Costumer Ashley Alverth, helping to delineate the many characters played by the four, and the actors themselves help us quickly realize the only thing the many scenes have in common is the theme of love.

There’s an almost mystical aspect to the opening and closing when the actors, dressed in awe-inspiring druidical robes celebrate the divine and all too human facets of love from the beginning of time.

Almost immediately we are shown two paradoxes -- Rory Dunn and Josey Miller seem like they’re made for each other, but having been brought together by a dating service they talk themselves through and out of the many twists and turns of the relationship they never have.

That’s followed by the revenge of the geeks -- Ryan Schisler and Lauren Morgan seem to have been put together out of spare parts, yet somehow despite their obvious incompatibility, things click.
The four conspire together in the cynical “Men Who Talk and the Women Who Pretend They’re Listening,” as four (or is it six or eight) individuals go through the motions of pretending they’re enjoying each other’s company because they’re not sure they’ve got other options.

One of my favorite scenes was “I’ll Call You Soon (Yeah, RIght)” when an unseen young man’s phone call leads to the four actors filling the stage with what feels like a full production number.

The whole first act, which ends with marriage, seems to prove the observation of my first college drama teacher, Linda DeVries, who way back in the early seventies told us that in Shakespeare’s comedies Love is a sickness that is only cured by marriage.

Perhaps that’s why Act Two is the stronger part of the play, when love passes the test of time and endures. I was especially impressed by: Josey Miller’s tour de force in “Always a Bridesmaid,” as she recounts the many failed marriages whose start she witnessed just a few feet from the altar; Ryan Schisler’s and Laren Morgan’s desperate attempt at carving out time to let the sparks fly within the confines of a household that included kids, pets, and a mother-in-law (“Marriage Tango”); and Rory Dunn’s star turn as the Husband who lives through his car in “On the Highway of Love,” and his duet with Miller closer to the ending of life in “I Can Live With That.”

My favorite moment was Schisler’s understated but satisfying defense of love that has lasted decades despite the dissolution of so many marriages around him, in the song “Shouldn’t I Be Less In Love With You?” personifying Shakespeare’s words (him again) that “Love varies not with his brief hours and weeks, but bears it out even to the edge of doom.”

Indeed, if I can get biblical, the second act proved the truth of the words, “…love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave.” (Song of Songs 8:6)

Director/Choreographer Amber Burgess deserves a lot of the credit for creating a clear arc from chaos towards order in this collection of sometimes uneven parts, and crafting a thoughtfully fun show from so many disparate ingredients. And let’s not forget -- the accompaniment was live and lively, featuring the piano magic of Music Director Paul Rigano and the violin expertise of Burgess.

I wonder if the title ought to have been simply, “I Love You.” Nobody’s perfect, and for the most part, there’s no changing each other. We are who we are, and that’s okay.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Fast. Frenetic. And Fresh.

The fast and frenetic we already knew – “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged),” currently playing on the Second Stage at Amish Acres, has been around for more than three decades, and its manic presentation of the Bard’s life and words is still laugh out loud hilarious.

But time hasn’t stood still, and neither has the show. Even though I’ve seen this show before, as well as purchased and read the script, I’m pretty sure there was no such person as SIRI back in the 90s, nor had anyone heard of Alexander Hamilton, at least as a rapper.
Which is a way of saying even if you’ve seen Complete Works before, you haven’t seen it before. And if you haven’t seen it, you’ve got to see it.

The premise is simple -- preeminent Shakespearean scholar Martin Flowers recruits the formidable Ryan Schisler and the weak-stomached Matthew Springer so that together they can present all the Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies of the Immortal Bard in under ninety minutes.

Each player has a star turn -- Schisler as Romeo, Springer as Juliet, Flowers as Hamlet, but basically everybody plays everything because, as Shakespeare once said (or was it Ferris Buehler?), “Live comes at you pretty fast.”

There are some surprises such as when -- Spoiler Alert -- Ophelia’s corpse is played by an overstuffed dog that sort of looks like Scooby Doo, or when Hamlet begins to treat his knife like a lolly-pop. Actually, the whole play is surprising. Fortunately it’s surprisingly fantastic.
Do they succeed? It depends on how you measure success! They certainly succeed at getting us to laugh, out loud and often. Flowers’ manic insecurity overwhelms his attempts at scholarship. Schisler broods and breeds his way through his intentionally inept portrayals of classic characters, while Springer, who plays the preponderance of female parts with a decidedly weak stomach, is game on, all in, and wit in. (I’m not sure if that last phrase is a real thing, but it ought to be).

The result is a riotous romp through the several classic and not so classic classics. The three agonize how to perform “Othello” without blackface, what to make of any play like “Troilus and Cressida” that features a character with a name like Agamemnon, or how to tell all those history play kings apart without a program. (Fortunately there’s a program!)
And lest you think the stomach churning cooking show parody of Titus Andronicus is over the top, let me assure you that the actual play is far more gory than you’d guess.
Right before the show I mentioned to a family member that it looked like the play would skip the largely unknown Shakespeare collaboration “The Two Noble Kinsmen,” which is not list in the program’s list -- but they didn’t! (They do skip Edward III, Arden of Faversham, The Book of Sir Thomas More, and the additions to The Spanish Tragedy, but then, everybody does, or did, until this year).

The show is ably directed by Rory Dunn. Richard Pletcher is the Executive Producer, Garth Moritz the Production Stage Manager, and, as the program notes, Amber Burgess is “Everything Else.” That everything else seems to include conducting all the backstage costume changes and probably the costumes too.

Box Info: “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” by Adam Long, Jess Winfield, and Daniel Singer, is presented at the Locke Township Meeting Hall’s Second Stage, at Amish Acres, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM, Sunday’s at 2:00 PM, through April 9. For tickets and information call 800-800-4942, or go to

Monday, February 20, 2017

Preview of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

If you ever sat in school, wondering why your teacher assigned something so boring and incomprehensible as a play by Shakespeare, then “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged” is for you.

On the other hand, if you ever sat in school entranced because the best teacher in the world assigned a play by Shakespeare, then “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged” is for you.

And if you’ve ever wondered who is this Shakespeare guy then “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged” is for you, too.

Thirty years ago Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Wingfield wrote and performed this play in Edinburgh, which led to a nine-year run in London and performances around the world. The play is manic -- the actors, who play themselves, parody one Shakespearean play after another. All the history plays, for instance, are squeezed into an American football game, or an English soccer match, or even Aussie Rules Football, depending on the actors’ country of origin. “Titus Andronicus,” one of Shakespeare’s goriest plays, becomes a cooking show that is not for the faint at heart.

And after a frenetic version of “Hamlet,” the cast attempts to perform it faster and faster, and then does one more time backwards. In all, you’ll see all thirty-seven plays in an hour and a half. Culture on the half shell. It’s fast, it’s painless, and it’s worth it!

Now it’s coming to the Round Barn Theatre as part of its Second Stage program in the Locke Township Meeting House.

“My favorite thing about it,” Amber Burgess, Artistic Director of the Round Barn Theatre, noted, “is that when you think of Shakespeare you think of something flowery. It takes the idea of being afraid of Shakespeare and turns it on its ear. It’s accessible. It’s funny. It’s smart.”

If you’ve seen the show before, you haven’t seen this show before, because each cast makes it their own, altering the script to suit their venue and locale, as well as their personalities. Burgess, who saw the show for the first time in 2005, near Denali National Park in Alaska, agreed. “There were a lot of references to the National Park Service instead of the normal references to the local mayor of the nearest town,” she said. “Even though there’s a format, there’s an element of improvisation to it.”

Those local references for these local performances will be developed by director Rory Dunn and his cast. Dunn is excited about directing this show. “You have a great script,” he said. “The authors have written a lot of wonderful comedy. And this is the revised version. They’ve just updated some of the jokes and references, making it a little more contemporary, referencing television shows, recent technology, things like that.”

But the key thing, he said, is “Practice, practice, practice. This is a fun, playful show. Once you start working with the cast you have the chance to develop that feeling of fun before the first audience comes in. You discover a lot in the process. The authors talk about how important it is that from the audience’s perspective, this is the first time this show has been performed,” Dunn added. “That’s possible because the actors have worked so hard that it’s finely tuned.”

As for the show itself, Dunn said, “Really it’s a love letter to Shakespeare in so many ways, even when they make fun of him. The authors want us to know about everything he’s contributed to art, society, culture, and to have fun doing that.”

Dunn himself remembers that “The first time he saw it, I was just blown away.” His first performance was in a bar. “They just ambled down, set up a little stage, hung up a sheet behind which to make their costume changes, and got started. There was a wonderful pace. Everyone was great in what they were doing. And there was so much great audience interaction. “

The second time he saw it was on a college campus. “Those students had just been studying Shakespeare.” Dunn laughed. “For every cast and every audience it’s a different experience.”

Burgess emphasized that everyone in the audience would get something out of it.

“We already know the stories because they’re a part of our society. Whether people know it or not, they know a lot of Shakespeare. On the other hand, if you are a Shakespeare Scholar, there are plenty of private jokes in there for you.”

“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged,” by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Wingfield, is part of The Round Barn’s Second Stage program and will be performed at the Locke Township Meeting Hall at Amish Acres, from March 17 through April 9, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM, Sundays at 2:00 PM. For ticket information call the Round Barn Theatre at 800-800-4942 or go to 

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Review of "The Miracle Worker"

In recent weeks we have seen the photographs of children in wartorn regions, stunned, covered in blood, staring back at us uncomprehendingly, not even looking to us for answers anymore. If you’ve got any sand in you, you have to realize there are no throwaway children. There are no throwaway human beings.

For that reason along with many others “The Miracle Worker,” the story of Helen Keller, is as timely as ever. Her teacher, Annie Sullivan was warehoused as a child among throwaway people, and from the searing experience Sullivan was motivated to lead the blind and deaf Keller away from the danger of becoming yet another throwaway human.

Abby Murray-Vachon plays the miracle worker of this story, Annie Sullivan, who has been brought in by the Kellers to teach their daughter Helen. Murray-Vachon has distinguished herself in the many and varied roles she has portrayed during this memorable season at the Round Barn Theater. Partway through “The Miracle Worker” she delivers words that tear into the soul like few speeches in drama. The Kellers admit they have considered sending their daughter to a facility but did not like what they saw on visiting day.

With passion but also purpose we hear Annie Sullivan describe more than we would ever want to believe about the facilities where she was housed, telling what happens to the sick and dying, the babies brought there to die, and the rats which are the only toys Annie and her dying brother had for play during their bitter years when they were warehoused. This scene ought to leave you breathless.
You can’t have a great Annie Sullivan without a peerless Helen Keller. We have one in Hannah Shetler. Shetler invites us into a world of darkness and silence. Thanks to her dedication to her craft Shetler leaves us stunned and in tears when the walls are finally torn down and words spill into her world. Shetler’s performance can be summed up in three words: focus, will, and strength. Both Murray-Vachon and Shetler come through their clash of the titans richly displaying the love that is at the core of this story.

But this show is not a stern polemic. “The Miracle Worker” is filled with heart and humor. The sheer physicality of the two central roles leaves the audience exhausted and exhilarated. Here we see most clearly how Director Amber Burgess is able to draw upon her own experiences in playing Annie, guiding the actors through the no-holds-barred sequences with power and discipline.

The play is set in 19th century Alabama after the era of Reconstruction when African-American hopes were squelched. The servant family, played by Myesha-Tiara in the role of Viney, along with her children Martha and Percy, played by Brooklyn Redd and Charles Redd, play their parts with historical and cultural authenticity and integrity. Bravo.

Amelia Lowry, who plays a blind student and is the understudy for Helen, does a nice star turn in her brief but important role. The Keller family is portrayed by Tucker Curtis and Heidi Ferris in the roles of Helen’s parents, Revel Ferris-Curtis, who plays both Baby Helen and her sibling Mildred)Quinn Rattan as the older son James, and Rita Kurtz as Aunt Ev. Together they create a classic dysfunctional yet loving family torn to the breaking point by Helen.

I remember the original television broadcast of “The Miracle Worker” in 1962 with great fondness. Over the years I’ve had the chance to see “The Miracle Worker” performed on several stages. Direction, stage design, lighting, and sound (the latter essential for the flashback scenes that we hear and do not see), and of course acting -- this is the best production of “The Miracle Worker” I can remember. You must go see this.