Production Review: Agnes of God

This past summer I was seeing posters for productions of the drama Agnes of God, which from what I heard, was a fantastic show. On many of those occasions I was out of luck in terms of seeing it (the show was out of town, I was stuck working that night, had other obligations). Fortunately, my luck changed.

Oct. 27 I attended a stunning performance of John Pielmeier’s drama Agnes of God presented by Between A&B Productions and directed by Bonnie Brewer. All I can really say is, “Wow!” The show is very intense and I applaud everyone for the excellent job they did in what is considered a challenging production. This drama only has three characters, but each character is equally complex. I will warn you that further reading does contain spoilers.

We have Doctor Martha Livingstone (played by Leslie Dame), an atheist court psychiatrist assigned to diagnose Sister Agnes (played by Clare Paulson). Agnes is accused of manslaughter after the death of her newborn and Livingstone is to determine whether or not Agnes could be considered insane. Mother Miriam Ruth (Kathleen Recchia) is Mother Superior at the Convent, and just wants Agnes free to return to the Convent and live a peaceful life. Well, things aren’t that simple for the characters. Each one has her own inner struggles, questions of faith, and dark secrets that complicate the matter.

Thematically Agnes of God touches upon concepts such as fear, faith and the effects of long term child abuse on a victim’s psyche. Livingstone questions religion after the death of her sister in a Convent. Mother Miriam wishes to hold on to Agnes, as her singing allows Miriam to keep her own faith. Agnes is either “touched by God” or suffers hallucinations and destructive self-deprecation from growing up with lifelong abuse from her mother. Livingstone has taken it upon herself to not only diagnose Agnes, but to find a way to treat her as well. Frequently Livingstone and Mother Miriam butt heads over how to treat Agnes, demonstrating the conflict between science and religion. At times they have sometimes humorous moments where they are at truce, as both women really want what’s best for Agnes. While at odds with one another, they also bond over cigarettes and discussion on which brands certain saints would prefer.

Many of the more mystical questions remain unanswered. We aren’t sure if Agnes is capable of stigmata or unseen self injury. The Father of her baby remains a mystery. We aren’t sure who the man was in her room, or whether or not the baby was conceived in a holy manner. Everyone’s still searching for their own miracles.

Whether or not you’re religious, this is an excellent play with compelling characters and a gripping story. It’s also one of those plays that touches on “the big questions” and makes you think. It allows the audience to come to their own conclusions. While it features characters of a religious nature, it doesn’t push religion on the audience. Between A&B Productions did an excellent job with this show. I look forward to see what they will do for future grassroots productions.