Three fine actresses resurrect John Pielmeier’s Agnes of God for Wake Forest, NC’s Forest Moon Theater. Pielmeier’s 1979 drama, runs through Feb. 19th at the Wake Forest Renaissance Centre and will then run from Feb. 23rd through the 26th at Sonorous Road Theatre on Oberlin Road in Raleigh.
The title is a pun on the Latin liturgical phrase “Agnes Dei,” meaning “Lamb of God.” Pielmeier’s lamb is a seriously troubled young nun who has given birth to a child that she has no recollection of either conceiving or birthing. The body of the baby was found in a waste basket behind her bed, strangled with its own umbilical cord.
Dr. Martha Livingston, a forensic psychiatrist, has been assigned by the court to determine whether the young woman is competent to stand trial for manslaughter. Dr Livingston is hampered with a distaste for Roman Catholic dogma, and the disturbing loss of her own younger sister.
Dr. Livingston’s antagonist in this endeavor is Mother Superior Miriam Ruth, who brings her own personal agenda to the discussion and is the source of the tension of the play.
The very effective set was designed by Bob Baird. Two leather wing-back chairs dominate right center stage, which represents Dr. Livingston’s office. To the left are a small desk and chair; and beside them is the typical psychiatrist’s patient couch. The upstage area is a translucent screen, framed in gray and surrounded by the black curtain, suggesting this is a play of mind, a play of lights and shadows, the tension between knowledge and belief, between the real and the unreal.
Bob Baird also directs the play, with a sure hand for nuance, and a very comfortable pace. Characterizations are realized with intensity and confidence. There is a sense of hard work having been accomplished in putting up this show.
Dr. Livingston is portrayed in a powerful performance by Benji Taylor, with an intensity that radiates, revealing the psychiatrist’s discomfort and tension. Jones demonstrates how Dr. Livingston’s uneasy handling of her cigarette habit contributes to the character’s personal problems and nervousness.
Jill Cromwell plays Agnes with a restrained, mild demeanor until something upsets the young nun, and then the suddenness of change is startling and, perhaps, demonic. Cromwell’s singing voice, an integral part of the character is beautiful and angelic. Cromwell does a fine job with this very complicated character.
Mother Superior Miriam Ruth is well played by Gilly Conklin, who sails far past the stereotypical strict, cold-minded commander of a convent. She demonstrates her nun’s love and concern for Agnes, although we also see her deep desire for this to be an “immaculate conception“. She also has her own story that creates tension within herself.
This is an excellent production of an old and rugged play that will tease your mind and convictions. If you can’t make it to Wake Forest, don’t forget that this production of Agnes of God also plays in Raleigh at Sonorous Road Theatre.
SECOND OPINION: Feb. 12th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=8352.
The Forest Moon Theater presents AGNES OF GOD at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 18 and 3 p.m. Feb. 19 in the Wake Forest Renaissance Centre, 405 S. Brooks St., Wake Forest, North Carolina 27587; and 8 p.m. Feb. 23-25 and 3 p.m. Feb. 26 at the Sonorous Road Theatre, 209 Oberlin Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27605.
TICKETS: $15 in advance ($13 students 18 and under and seniors 65+) and $18 day of show ($16 students 18 and under and seniors 65+).
Wake Forest Renaissance Centre: http://www.etix.com/ticket/e/1004353/agnes-wake-forest-wake-forest-renaissance-centre.
Sonorous Road Theatre: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2716267.
INFORMATION: 919-435-2001 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
2016-17 SEASON: http://www.forestmoontheater.org/current-season/.
Wake Forest Renaissance Centre: http://www.wakeforestnc.gov/renaissance-centre.aspx, https://www.facebook.com/WFRenaissanceCentre, and https://twitter.com/WFRenCen (directions: http://www.wakeforestnc.gov/driving-directions-1.aspx).
Sonorous Road Theatre: https://www.sonorousroadtheatre.com/ (directions: https://www.sonorousroadtheatre.com/location-hours).
Agnes of God (1982 Broadway mystery): http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/2267/agnes-of-god (Samuel French, Inc.), http://johnpielmeier.com/theater/plays/agnes-of-god/ (John Pielmeier: Writing and Acting for the Stage and Screen), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/agnes-of-god-1421 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnes_of_God (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
John Pielmeier (Altoona, PA-born playwright and screenwriter): http://johnpielmeier.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/john-pielmeier-6888 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0682196/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Pielmeier (Wikipedia).
Bob Baird (Raleigh, NC director and scenic designer): https://www.facebook.com/robert.c.baird (Facebook page).
Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: http://www.chuckgalle.com/. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.