“As It Is In Heaven” Brings Simplicity And Order To Stage At Mustard Seed Theatre

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The ladies of the Shaker community sing in “As It Is In Heaven” at Mustard Seed Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

“‘Tis A Gift To Be Simple” rings through your mind as you watch the profound and spiritual play by Arlene Hutton at Mustard Seed Theatre, “As It Is In Heaven.” Set in a Shaker community in Pleasant Hill, Kentucky in the early 1840’s, we are greeted  by the Sisters of this community as they live together while the men of the Shaker commune live in a separate area. They all live a celibate lifestyle although, as we see as the play progresses, some of the ladies share more than a passing interest in some of the Brothers.

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Quilting is one of the bedrocks of life in the Mustard Seed Theatre production of “As It Is In Heaven.” Photo: John Lamb

Singing, dancing and celebrating their love of Christ are the most common activities of the day other than each members’ set of chores handed down by the eldress and her two assistants. As a bit of background, the Shakers originally came to America from England to escape religious persecution. Mother Ann Lee led the way as they reached shore in 1774.

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Patrice Foster as Fanny raises her hands as the Sisters praise her visions in “As It Is In Heaven” at Mustard Seed Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Patrice Foster as Fanny becomes the center of attention in the community when she has visions of angels on her trips to the meadow beyond the compound. Others begin to have visions as well including that of the spirit of Mother Lee. Ms. Foster gives a beautiful and tender performance as she is more scared and upset by her sightings than she is inspired. Hannah, the eldress, is perturbed that these visions appear to be real as she expects them to come to her and not one of the new members to their group. Amy Loui brings the agitation combined with almost forced understanding to the role. You can see how hurt she is but is also grappling with her love of God and those in her charge.

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The ladies of the Shaker community enjoy a picnic in the Mustard Seed Theatre production of “As It Is In Heaven.” Photo: John Lamb

Laurie McConnell is the cook and baker of the bunch as Peggy. She plays the role with a sunny outlook with always a kind word for her fellow Sisters. Christina Sittser is one of the “adopted” members, Izzy and Jennelle Gilbreath is a novice, Jane, who has recently lost her husband. Both do a great job and find themselves fighting with their faith as they try to cope in this environment that seems almost too confining for them. Their lives, however, bring the conflict that drives the forces of less than perfect harmony in the play.

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Jenelle Gilbreath as Jane relates details of her life to Alicia Reve Like as Betsy in “As It Is In Heaven” at Mustard Seed Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Leslie Wobbe as Rachel, Alicia Reve Like as Betsy, Mary Schnitzler as Phebe and Amanda Wales as Polly round out the Sisters with this brilliant ensemble who almost move and act as one. From the impromptu dances and singing to their daily tasks and talk, they move with a fluidity that shows how they all act and think alike in their service to God.

Artistic Director of Mustard Seed, Deanna Jent has given this look at Shaker life an inspired and moving feel. You can’t help but be captivated and captured by their spirit and sense of community. The simple set with a varnished floor and a bit of grass at the front of the stage and just some basic benches and open air doors and windows are the work of Cameron Tesson. Bess Moynihan’s lights enhance the simple and effective technical work as do the Jane Sullivan costumes.

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The ladies of the Shaker community perform one of their many impromptu songs and dances in “As It Is In Heaven” at Mustard Seed Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

“As It Is In Heaven” runs a crisp 90 minutes and is moving in its simplicity. It will fill you with awe at their devotion to God and community and make you laugh and cry at the touches of humanity that go beyond faith into the trials of everyday life. It plays at Mustard Seed Theatre through March 31st. Give them a call at 314-719-8060 for tickets or more information.

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