Mar 23

Fire Exit Theatre’s As It Is In Heaven explores close-knit communities

by Jenna Shummoogum · 0 comments

Fire Exit Theatre’s final play this season, As It Is In Heaven by Arlene Hutton, explores the dynamics of a group of Shaker women living in Pleasant Hill, Kentucky in 1838 – and how the arrival of newcomers challenges that dynamic. The play may be set in the 1800s, but without cues from Julia Wasilewski’s costuming, you could mistake the show for a modern-day telling of what happens to the balance of a close-knit community when new people and new experiences enter their lives. 

The play introduces 9 women as part of the Shaker community, a religious group. We watch them go about their days while they confess their sins, sew their garments and prepare their meals. But these activities are interrupted by interrogations: Fanny has seen angels in the field and the elder sisters are trying to get to the bottom of these sightings.

As It Is In Heaven plays between the lines of believing and not believing. Fanny and her friends might be making up all these visions, to try and get out of their chores. Or they may be instruments of the divine. Director Kate Newby makes sure to emphasize elder sister Hannah’s concerns about these visions, the peace and balance of the community, and the fact that she can’t see these angels. The pace of the play at first is a bit slow, but builds nicely to present the conflicts that threaten the community.

Wasilewski also designed the set, which is simple with benches moved around to aid in the telling of the story. There are wooden structures to suggest that the ladies stay on a farm. Alexandra Prichard’s lighting design pulls our focus to the characters who have asides and also helps to elevate the scenes that are divine in nature.

The play allows you to suspend time and space and narrow down to the heart of the matter. What happens when the dynamic within your community is upset? Where do you go from here? How to you find divinity?

Fire Exit Theatre’s production of As It Is In Heaven runs until March 25. More information is available online.

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