BWW Review: AGNES OF GOD at Downey Ave Christian Church Performing Arts
John Pielmeier's mind-bending drama, ''Agnes of God,'' started as a successful play on Broadway and was later turned into a movie starring Jane Fonda. On the surface, ''Agnes of God'' is about a psychiatrist who longs to understand herself and opinions on the world. While working, the court has appointed that she take on Agnes (Katie Marie Eaker), a case of a nun who has gave birth in a convent and has been charged with infanticide. Dr. Martha Livingstone (Jesi Brown Friedly), psychiatrist, longs to discover the truth hidden behind Agnes's shrouded and cloistered mind. A psychological conflict ensues between Dr. Livingstone and Mother Miriam Ruth (Tina Valdois-Bruner) over Agnes's mental and spiritual health, and the show became a myriad of contrasting opinions between science and religion, the temporal and spiritual, and what is fact versus faith.
The director, Anthony Lineberry, had clearly gathered a first-rate cast. The ever-questioning, angry Dr. Livingstone was played by Jesi Brown Friedly with heartbreaking intensity. As Livingstone is able to slowly pull Agnes' story of her horrible childhood that was filled with ignorance and abuse, Livingstone slowly unearths some more darker recesses of her own soul. Friedly was able to turn the impetuous and skeptical psychiatrist in Act I into a softer, self-aware person by the end of the play.
Tina Valdois-Bruner gave an equally intense performance as the hardheaded, shielding Mother Superior. In Valdois-Bruner 's interpretation of the role, this Mother Superior had lived in a world and found it a disappointing place. Her sanctuary came later in life after having children in the convent that is more contemplative rather than teaching. There, she is able to find some semblance of self-assurance and self-respect along with her own internal peace. Valdois-Bruner made Mother Miriam Ruth more caring and more tender than the part is usually played, and it turned out to be the right choice, and we found that it added a rich context and extra dimension to the entire show.
Katie Marie Eaker played Agnes as a sweet, gentle, and pure person, more akin to a child than a grown woman. Occasionally, Agnes exhibited flashes of pain, terror, and anger that Eaker made extremely believable in her role. We also found that Eaker had just the right amount of fey hysteria as Agnes. She is perched dangerously on a fine line between reality and a mind filled by vindictive angels and laughing demons. Eaker is also young and pretty, which made her Agnes much more confusing (in a good way) to the audience, making us not sure whose side to take.
Some amount of consideration and kudos have to be given to Director Lineberry. He payed good attention to the script and never ignored the play's tension and its dramatic conflicts as all the performances are all tightly knit, textually impeccable, and honest.