‘As it is in Heaven,’ the Shakers’ fight to create heaven on earth

Hilda Yeghishian

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CSUN theatre students came together under the direction of professor Anamarie Dwyer to perform comedic yet inspirational historical play “As it is in Heaven.”

“As it is in Heaven,” a new play by Arlene Hutton, is a portrayal of a Shaker community found in the middle of Kentucky in the 1830s. The Shakers, officially known as The United Society of Believers, were founded by Mother Ann Lee and seek to create an almost perfect Heaven like world.

In the Shaker community the women are considered to be equal to men and live in separate parts of town. Their hearts are dedicated to god and prayer but their hands are dedicated to work and chores.

When newcomers join the community the order is disturbed and the followers begin to believe that either the devil is amidst them or the world is coming to an end.

Sister Polly (Estella Owoimaha), a newcomer, is prone to question the rules of the believers. She has a “gift” to draw and as if that isn’t enough, she draws from her mind. This shocks the others, they fear. Polly draws gifts that she says Mother Ann Lee told her to draw for the other girls.

Sister Fanny (Carlie Sonenschein), another newcomer, sees angels and hears music past the meadow. The elders fear that she is making up stories for attention. They interrogate her and the others on what they see.

Sister Jane (Julie Brett) cries in depression as she mourns the loss of her five children all of whom have passed before the age of six. Her struggle with sickly children has made her resentful of her marriage.

As some of the women struggle to find peace in the Shaker community, Sister Izzy (Martha Escobar) loves the community. She is the youngest and has been there since the age of three after her mother passed away and her father dropped her off. Many years later when her father reappears to take her back home she begs the elders to let her sign the covenant and stay.

Sister Hannah (Mary Ferguson), a woman considered to be more enlightened than the rest, finds it hard to believe that the Mother Ann Lee and the angels would contact “uneducated” women such as Sister Fanny and Sister Polly.

In the CSUN Studio Theatre, a small black box theatre, audience members were asked to sit Shaker-style, which meant that men and women were separated, to enhance the audience appreciation. Unfortunately, that style of seating fell through when latecomers showed up and were quickly escorted to the back corner and seated together.

Other than the distraction caused by latecomers, a distraction was presented when the young ones where being interrogated. A strange loud banging noise was projected during this scene and the reason remained unknown. It can be assumed that the noise was used to help create a sense of intimidation, but mostly it just acted as a distraction as audience members wondered it was there in the first place.

The actors, consisting of Brett, Escobar, Ferguson, Owoimaha, Sonenschein, Debrorah Edwards, Melisa Malvin, Raquel Sanchez and Shelby Schulman, made up for any negative distraction as they easily spoke in a southern comfort accent. Escobar especially did a marvelous job portraying a young girl in need of direction.

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