AS IT IS IN HEAVEN is the 492nd full-length production at Old Academy Players. This play should not be confused with the Swedish film of the same title. Theater is at its best when the intention is to entertain, educate, enlighten, and/or inform. AS IT IS IN HEAVEN informs the audience regarding the little explored topic of the Shaker life. Prior to the production the director, Jane Jennings, aptly read a bit of background regarding the life and history of the Shaker people. The lengthy intro enhanced understanding of the scenes within the production. Life within the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky is shaken by newcomers who threaten to change the staid ways of the women in the community. Women live separately from men in the villages. There is lively and engaging Shaker fiddle music for the pre-show. The play is punctuated by the song and dance in the traditional Shaker style.
The women in the show are an interesting ensemble, made up of varying ages and temperaments. The play showcases the idea that the women are normal people engaged in natural behaviors. While religion rules their lives, they are still people who laugh, gossip, sing, dance, and sometimes wish to have just a bit more of their favorite meals. They also have jealous moments and are concerned and fearful about the impact of change on their way of life and style of worship. Each of the actresses in the production makes the most of keeping it natural, while exploring the intrinsic religious bent of life among the Shakers. This is challenging material, delivered with honesty. It is a treat to see actresses of so many ages working together as a cohesive ensemble. From high school students Jessica Hobbs-Pifer and Nicole Bishop to the two who have over seventy years on and off stage at Old Academy Players Freda Gowling and Carla Childs, the players all keep it real. The cast is a mix of those new and old to the stage at Old Academy Players with Austin Stanton, Jillian Bosmann, Marcy Hoffman, and Norma Kider having performed on the historic stage several times in the past and Sarah Labov for the first time. The actresses are all on stage throughout the entire show and all participate in the singing and the dances.
The set is sparse with a whitewashed wall and Shaker peg rail surround. There are traditional Shaker items such as baskets, quilts, benches, brooms, and chairs as both set decoration and useful prop elements. During intermission there is a display of Shaker information in the upstairs room, where refreshments are served. Costumes enhance the historic and traditional Shaker elements of the story. There are structural problems with the script that the cast and director do an admirable job of attempting to overcome. For the glimpse into a world largely unknown there is theatrical value. The performance is very much like a trip to a living history museum.
AS IT IS IN HEAVEN
by Arlene Hutton
Directed by Jane Jennings
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM
Sundays at 2:00 PM
November 7 – 23, 2014
Old Academy Players
3540-44 Indian Queen Lane
Philadelphia, PA 19129