Agnes of God
New Theatre’s latest production is John Pielmeier’s "Agnes of God," a powerful and psychologically profound play about the power of faith and the journey for truth. The play enjoyed a healthy seventeen-month run on Broadway in the early ’80s and was later made into a successful film starring Jane Fonda and Anne Bancroft. It has since enjoyed several revivals throughout the country.
In it, Agnes (Christina Groom), a young and child-like nun, may or may not have killed her newborn child and stuffed it in the wastebasket. She is sent to a court-appointed psychologist (Pamela Roza) who has the dubious task of determining the young nun’s state of mental health. The mother superior (Barbara Sloan) attends each session and is highly protective of young Agnes whom she considers an "innocent."
The doctor becomes ’obsessed’ with Agnes and their sessions ultimately reveal not only the truth behind what occurred on the bloody, mysterious night when the baby was born, but they also peel back the many layers of deep-seeded animosity the other two characters have for each other’s chosen professions.
This particular production hits on every level. As a theatre critic, it is my duty to listen better than most, but it is rare for me to hang on every word coming from the actors’ mouths as I did during this show. The writing is superb; seamlessly exploring the wonders of the human psyche and its oft-turbulent relationship with human nature and human desires. Pielmeier’s characters (two nuns and a psychologist) may not be perfectly representative of the average person, but their experiences (and his words) make them relatable to everyone in that theatre.
Christina Groom as young Agnes brings the character’s vulnerability to every word, every look, and every action. She embodies the character’s innocence and her performance compelled every audience member to understand her decisions (be they Godly or not).
Barbara Sloan is perfectly cast as the overprotective mother superior. Her character (and Ms. Sloan’s performance) is caring, but stern, demanding, but nurturing, and worldly enough to say it like it is when necessary. Ms. Sloan’s performance is both delicate and impassioned with a quiet rage that hints at the fact that the mother superior knows more than she is letting on.
Pamela Roza is magnificent as the psychologist; skillfully portraying her with that all-too-common distance and objectivity required of doctors while expertly and subtly revealing her quiet hostility toward nuns and everything they stand for. Ms. Roza did stumble over quite a few of her lines, but overall, her performance (and her stage presence) is undeniable.
Artistic Director Ricky J. Martinez serves as both director and stage designer for this production. The set design, while uncomplicated, serves the story and the blocking perfectly well by not overpowering the words or the performances. His direction is smooth and concise, placing the actors in position to maximize every critical moment and every astonishing revelation.
This production will satisfy the viewer in every way and at every level. It will make you question-not necessarily your beliefs-but the foundation for those beliefs. It will make you think and re-examine the roles love and faith play in your life and, perhaps most significant, it will force you to decide which of the two takes priority. It is not to be missed.