BWW Reviews: Encore Theatre's AGNES OF GOD is Gripping and Emotional

Tonyai Palmer as Dr. Martha Livingstone

Encore Theatre is celebrating their 20th anniversary with a season of "Classic Works from the Past Seasons." Proving that they are well capable of tackling complex pieces, they are sailing into 2014 with John Pielmeier's AGNES OF GOD. The play, which opened on Broadway in 1982 and eventually inspired the 1985 film, provides a stark examination of faith, innocence, compassion, and humanity. Encore Theatre beautifully captures the spirit of this production, giving audiences a gripping and emotional theatre going experience.

AGNES OF GOD is a thought-provoking play that interweaves the lives of three women, surrounding the mysterious death of a newborn baby in a convent. Agnes is a youthful and naïve novice nun who is accused of delivering and murdering the newborn. Dr. Martha Livingstone is an embittered atheist and court-appointed psychiatrist who is tasked with interviewing Agnes and who clashes with the protective Mother Superior, Miriam Ruth. Through her interactions with these two women, Dr. Livingstone works to discover what really happened and in return uncovers a lot more than she ever expected. Direction by Harold J. Haynes effectively captures each of the characters strengths and vulnerabilities, and he successfully presents us with three very authentic and relatable women. His direction wisely exploits the whole spectrum of human emotion while he elegantly builds and releases tension to captivate the audience from beginning to end.

Bobbi Yarbrough as Mother Miriam Ruth & Aviar Crawford
as Agnes

Encore Theatre's production of AGNES OF GOD is led by three actresses that give consistent and powerful performances. Tonyai Palmer offers a compelling and dynamic performance as Dr. Martha Livingstone. She pristinely embodies the skeptical psychiatrist, but truly mesmerizes the audience as she transforms into an empathetic believer and demonstrates an impressive emotional range. In her portrayal of Mother Miriam Ruth, Bobbi Yarbrough positively creates a rich and layered character. In her performance she is unflinchingly protective, maternally sensitive, and pragmatic. In the titular role of Agnes, Aviar Crawford is nothing short of memorable. She imbues her character with a child-like youthfulness and despair, and executes the role with a quiet intensity that haunts you long after the final moments. The true strength of this production comes from the way cast works together as an ensemble. In their on-stage interactions, each actress works to gracefully weave compassion with distrust, and successfully builds a tension that captivates the audience until the final explosive moments of the play.

The technical elements for this production are impressive. Scenery Design and Light Design by Harold J. Haynes creatively fills the limited stage space to produce three intimate settings. The audience is presented with a small office space that is quite simple, but effectively mimics the seemingly cold nature of the court-appointed psychiatrist. Similarly, stage right emphasizes the versatility of the scenery by creating an outdoor garden complete with working fountain. Taking center stage is the inside of a church office, complete with a large cross and staiNed Glass windows. While much of the production takes place in this area, the setting feels both appropriate and somewhat immersive, never letting the audience forget the religious and faith-based implications of these characters' actions. Harold J. Haynes' Light Design plays an integral role in building the intensity of the production. As the audience is taken on an emotional journey, the transition from a well-lit stage to the intimacy of a single spotlight ensures that all are actively engaged. Likewise, Costume Design by Harold J. Haynes is simple, but fully appropriate for each character.

With strong direction, a talented cast, and notable technical elements, Encore Theatre's production of AGNES OF GOD excels on many levels. This production is certainly worth taking the time to see. While it is an emotional and thought-provoking piece, it is one that engages you and will stay with you long after it's done.

There is still time to catch AGNES OF GOD at Encore Theatre. Playing until January 26, performances are Friday, January 24 and Saturday, January 25 at 8:00 PM and Sunday January 26 at 5:00 PM. Tickets are $20. For More information or ticket reservations, please call 832-578-1705.

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