"Agnes of God" July - August 1987
By John Pielmeier, Directed by John Carlberg
Sheryl Murray: (Dr. Martha Livingstone) Carol Stubb: (Mother Miriam Ruth)
Andrea Link: (Agnes)
Carol Stubb: (Mother Miriam Ruth)
Sheryl Murray: (Dr. Martha Livingstone)
From The Daily World, July, 1987
Out of the darkness, a young female voice is heard, softly chanting in Latin. A white cross is illuminated on the back wall, and the lights slowly come up to reveal a nun, crouched on the floor of the convent, rocking up and back slowly in rhythm with her melodic phrasing.
This is Agnes, the central character in the Driftwood Players' current production, "Agnes of God."
AGNES is played by Andrea Link. Her innocent, rounded, pale face, and large blue eyes are the perfect physical attributes with which to convey the sheltered, inexperienced nun who finds herself up on charges of murder, after a dead baby is discovered in her room at the convent.
It would be unfair to the playwright, and director/cast of this production, to reveal many plot details. Much of the action in the play is derived by the subtle twists and turns of the dialogue.
The play's cast can be viewed as arranged in a triangle. The points are three women who are thrust against each other emotionally, mentally, and at times physically in attempts to suppress, reveal, and convey "the facts" of the impregnation, gestation, delivery and death.
These women are obsessive. One is quite possibly psychotic, the other two are definitely border-line neurotic.
Dr. Livingstone, the psychiatrist appointed by the court to judge Agnes' mental fitness, is a chain-smoking insomniac who in the first moments of the play says,: "I still want to believe that somewhere, somehow, there is a happy ending for every story. It all depends on how thoroughly you look for it. And how deeply you need it."
As the play unravels, we see what tangled webs indeed we weave, and the skeletons that fall out of these closets are not trivial.
Dr. Livingstone, played by Sheryl Murray, struggles admirably to maintain her atheistic objectivity on the case, as she shares with the audience in private moments from her office, memories of death, rejection, and hurt caused by Catholicism.
Link does a nice job of playing Agnes, the idealistic, simplistic true believer.
IN addition to religious conviction, Agnes also hears voices that direct her actions and thoughts. In her first encounter with the psychiatrist, Agnes tells her, "I can't talk about the baby, because I don't believe in the baby."
Link has the innocent believability for Agnes and also a beautiful voice for the singing in this part. Her visual escape by staring into space while gently rocking as she is interrogated was perfectly done.
The greatest strength of this show, and perhaps appropriately so, comes from within the walls of the convent. Carol Stubb, playing Mother Superior, gave a performance of such depth that the other cast members worked best when opposite her.
She communicated restrained energy through tensed shoulders, face muscles at times frozen in a smiling grimace, and fingers that flailed unceasingly in the folds of her robes. It imbued the stage with a tense, high energy whenever she was on. When she wasn't on, you felt the presence of her energy lurking around the corner as Mother Superior quietly paced the halls.
In her scenes with Agnes, she would bow over slightly towards her on the floor, lightly caressing Agnes with her quiet speech, and touch her with her fingertips, manipulating, cajoling, and scolding, with maternal undertones. It was beautifully and naturally orchestrated.
There are many lines in this play that stand out, and moments of conflict that will implant themselves vividly in your memory. There are moments of humor, but they are far outweighed by the incredible tragedy of this play.
ONE of the memorable examples from the script is said by Mother Superior in a discussion with Dr. Livingstone, "No one is born a saint anymore. We've evolved too far. We're born. We live. We die....How I miss the miracles."
I had two problems with this production. One was that so much of the dialogue is of a sensitive nature the emotion brought the volume levels down, and at times it was difficult to hear all the lines.
Secondly, it was clearly established by Murray as an actress that her character smoked constantly, indeed it's pointed out in the script as well. Yet, in the second act I didn't see Dr. Livingstone pick up a cigarette, much less smoke one. I was wondering why she decided to quit during the intermission and not tell the audience.
"Agnes of God" was directed by John Carlberg, who also did the set design. This show runs through Aug. 8 on Friday and Saturday nights at 8:15 Tickets are available at the usual outlets.
From The Daily World, Thursday, July 23, 1987
"Agnes of God," a socially controversial drama by John Pielmeier, is playing at the Driftwood Theater.
Those who've already seen the play, or watched the popular movie (starring Jane Fonda, Anne Bancroft, and Meg Tilly), may have wondered where the script idea originated.
According to director John Carlberg, Pielmeier was struggling with his religious beliefs and while trying to get to sleep one night remembered a newspaper headline, "Nun Kills Baby."
He based the story of Agnes on that.
Agnes is a young nun in a convent who has a baby. A legal investigation is requested and a psychiatrist is called in to verify the girl's mental capacities. The mother superior is protective, defensive, and not used to giving information openly to the public.
The play raises ethical, religious and moral questions, which Carlberg said are intended by the playwright to be left unanswered.
"I think the audience has to make their own decisions. You should be able to believe whatever you want. I don't think it's anti-religious, or anti-Catholic.
"I think it's pro-choice. It's a battle of religion and science. The pregnancy is just the catalyst," he said.
Driftwood took a risk in producing the show because of its controversial nature. That's part of the reason it's running during the summer in Driftwood's off-season.
Gary Morean, who was president of Driftwood's Board during this season's selection process said, "We don't try and choose plays which will offend people. But we've also learned that no matter what we do, someone isn't going to like something about the production.
"We feel it's better for Driftwood to be doing a play than not to. The summer is used for plays which normally wouldn't be part of our regular season fare, because we try to keep it more family-fare oriented."
Mother Superior has a line in the show which Carlberg said sums up the play:
"I want to believe. I want the opportunity to believe. I want the choice to believe."
"Agnes of God" curtain time is 8:15 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through August 8. Tickets are available at the usual outlets.
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