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‘Everything is Wonderful’ deals with loss, forgiveness

By Staff | Jul 7, 2017

Imagine living in a world where all you have is your family, faith and your way of life. Now imagine all of those things being challenged in an instant. This scenario is the catalyst for Chelsea Marcantel’s world premiere play, “Everything is Wonderful.”

Marcantel’s play tells the story of an Amish family struggling to maintain their faith after their two sons are killed in a car accident. However, in an act of forgiveness, the family shows grace to Eric, the driver who took the two boys’ lives. Soon the family’s complicated past is revealed when the family’s oldest daughter returns from excommunication, causing the family to confront the ills of their past.

“The first germ of the (play) came from a short documentary about people whose lives have been effected by others who have texted and driven. In the documentary, one of the men had struck and hit and Amish buggy,” Marcantel said. “Surprisingly, the Amish showed the guy forgiveness and empathy.”

For Marcantel, this real-life example sparked an interest in how the Amish respond to such tragedy.

“I thought, ‘Isn’t this the same community that kicks their kids out for listening to Taylor Swift?’ It seemed they treated outsiders better than one of their own,” Marcantel said. “So, I wanted to explore what happens when we leave our communities, but want to get back in.”

However, Marcantel said she did not set out to write a play based around the Amish, or even centered on the story’s main theme.

“After watching the documentary, I researched about the Amish, but went on to explore other ideas. I eventually came back to the idea of a man who collides with an Amish buggy and is brought into the community that way,” Marcantel said. “The overarching theme of the play then becomes about forgiveness and how it is not easy or magical. Forgiveness takes hard work and is a conscience choice we can call make.”

According to Marcantel, another focus of the play is the topic of language.

“Language and naming is another big theme. Talking about things, bringing them into the light – if something is going on, talking about it helps in healing,” she said.

While Marcantel did not grow up Amish, she said she has a personal connection to the idea of stepping away from the community you know, and being able to view it in a new light.

“People often ask if I grew up Amish, or in an area with Amish – but I didn’t. I grew up in Louisiana, in a very Catholic family. I have a sister who’s a nun. I’ve been around faith and people of faith my entire life,” Marcantel said. “A lot of that plays into the way people encounter the world in this play. While I did grow up in a religious community, I’ve come up against some of the doctrine and rules. Not to say I’m no longer a person of faith, but I relate to the daughter who moved away. I experienced the world of faith differently than how I was brought up – just as she does.”

According to Marcantel, she is excited to see the production come to completion, just as she hopes the community is as well.

“I’m completely thrilled with the work (the cast and crew) are doing. They are fantastic. All are cast in other shows as well; doing the festival really shows their range,” she said.

While every person will walk away thinking or feeling something different, Marcantel said audience goers will be stunned by how it all comes together.

“I think people are going to be surprised, but also intrigued,” she said. “I think when you see a couple of plays back-to-back (with the festival), it becomes apparent that these are the first or second productions by current American playwrights, and it shows what it means to be alive and in America at this point in time.”

As far as what the future holds, Marcantel said she has a couple of projects currently in the works.

“I’m working on a couple of things; things that will get productions next year. One about competitive air guitar players. I’m also working on another play about young girls living in a trailer park on the Gulf Coast who are trying to join ISIS over the Internet,” she said.

Although each play during the Contemporary American Theater Festival approaches life from different angles, “Everything is Wonderful” is sure to give audiences something to talk about on the way home from the theater. Maybe it will even spark some forgiveness in the lives of those who see it.

“Everything is Wonderful” is directed by Ed Herendeen and stars Paul DeBoy as Jacob; Hollis McCarthy as Esther; Jason Babinsky as Eric; Lucky Gretzinger as Abram; Lexi Lapp as Ruth; and Jessica Savage as Miri. The production opens tonight at 8:30 p.m. on the Frank Center Stage. Other performance dates include: Saturday, Thursday, July 16, 19, 22 and 30 at 2:30 p.m.; Sunday and July 23 at 6:30 p.m.; and Thursday, July 15, 19, 21, 27 and 29 at 8:30 p.m. For tickets, call 304-876-3473, or visit catf.org.