Suffer the children
Agnes of God
Sacramento, CA 95819
Celebration Arts finds virtue in simplicity with this well-done production of John Pielmeier’s 1982 play, Agnes of God. Set entirely in a psychiatrist’s office, Agnes of God relies on the power of language and storytelling—as well as the skills of its actors—to examine questions of faith, family, forgiveness and innocence.
Dr. Martha Livingstone, a psychiatrist (played by the remarkable Voress Franklin), has been appointed to investigate the case of a novice nun accused of killing her newborn infant in her convent cell. The doctor’s job is to determine if Sister Agnes (Imani Mitchell) meets the legal definition of sanity. Complicating matters a bit is Agnes’ superior, Mother Miriam Ruth, who is extremely protective of the accused nun—and extremely suspicious of Dr. Livingstone.
These three unravel the story on a spare stage, furnished only with a small desk, two chairs and a stool. Props are also kept to a minimum, which allows the audience to focus on the interplay between characters as well as become lost in the language of belief and evidence.
Franklin’s psychiatrist travels a great deal of ground as an atheist who bears a grudge against the Catholic Church and who is forced to confront the power of faith in the lives of both her patient and the Mother Superior. Onstage for the entire play, the burden of carrying the audience falls squarely on her shoulders; what she knows is what the audience knows. Franklin brings a quality of humility to the character that serves to balance a considerable righteous anger.
The Mother Superior (Alana Mathews) is a woman with both secrets and anger of her own. Mathews portrays her as equally a defender of Agnes and of her own faith, which seem to be more closely related than one would expect.
As Agnes, Mitchell is a revelation. The role requires her to change moods quickly. She achieves that in a very physical way; whether as an abused child or a spiritually infused potential saint, Mitchell’s Agnes retains a childlike grace.
It is necessary to suspend a certain amount of disbelief—these days, a quick DNA test would answer one of the play’s central mysteries—but the crisp direction from James Wheatley and the strong performances from the three actors make this production well worth the time and thought the issues raised require.