BWW Review: Exquisite AGNES OF GOD at Epic Theatre
Despite the fact that John Pielmeier's AGNES OF GOD has existed as both an award-winning play and later film, it doesn't seem to have been produced very often. That's all the more reason to rush out and see Epic Theatre's well-executed version of a play that is strange, fascinating and heartbreaking. Juxtaposing the mystical with legal is always good fodder for a thorny debate, and this solid cast delivers the layered and complicated humanity needed to make the story resonate.
The title character, Agnes (Angelique Dina), is a young nun who allegedly had a baby in secret, that was later found dead in a wastebasket. Dr. Martha Livingstone (Melanie Stone), is the court-appointed psychiatrist tasked with determining whether or not Agnes was in her right mind at the time the baby died, and therefore whether this is a case of murder or manslaughter. Dr. Livingstone has a very complicated relationship with the Catholic church due to her sister's death in a convent years earlier, and she immediately butts heads with Mother Miriam Ruth (Lee Rush), who seems to want to protect Agnes, and also her convent.
The dynamics of this story are fascinating, and as a three-person production, it's imperative the cast sync together and the director keeps things moving at a good pace. Director Lynne Collinson achieved this perfectly. It's always astonishing when 90 minutes in a black box theatre seems to go by in an instant, yet that is exactly what happens here. The script is tight, but Collinson manages to bring in subtle changes in staging and lighting to create whole new moments that keep the action moving and flowing.
The cast certainly deserve heaps of praise for giving well-realized performances of complicated and intriguing characters. Melanie Stone as Dr. Livingstone speaks directly to the audience in several places, so we quickly understand her motivations and biases. As a psychiatrist, one almost feels like she's testifying as to any prejudice she may have up front, so that the audience knows that she is aware and it doesn't unduly influence her investigation. Stone shows strength and vulnerability, and has some thoroughly delightful moments with Mother Miriam Ruth. The dynamic between these two women is fascinating and feels very authentic. Both of them seek to protect Agnes, but because of their different roles, they have to go about things very differently.
Initially, it seems like they will do nothing but disagree, but they manage to find common ground. Lee Rush's performance is alternately terrifying and hilarious. She is a formidable woman, but Mother Miriam is clearly used to being in charge. Rush's delivery is dry and no-nonsense, and one can tell that she does not suffer fools. On the other hand, from her perspective as a nun, she truly believes that Agnes is an "innocent." Rush juggles these seemingly conflicting notions with dexterity and skill.
Angelique Dina is heartbreaking as Agnes. She's a childlike cypher who at first seems almost frustratingly immature, but the audience quickly learns more about her backstory as Dina carefully starts to peel back Agnes's layers and reveal her demons. The scenes with all three actors are the most fascinating because they become like a dance. Agnes is unraveling, Livingstone is trying to extract information from her without damaging her fragile psyche, and Mother Miriam wants to protect Agnes's mind while also keeping her from revealing anything that could be used against her. The mystery keeps the story going, and the fantastic performances and dynamic among the performers is what makes this production really compelling.
Agnes of God runs February 7th - 23rd at the Artists' Exchange located at 50 Rolfe Square in Cranston, Rhode Island.
Tickets are $10 - $20 and can be purchased by going to the Artist's Exchange Wesite.
Photo: Lee Rush as Mother Miriam Ruth, Angliqu Dina as Agnes, Melanie Stone as Dr. Matth Livingstone. Photo by Dave Cantelli.