Review of Agnes of God
By John Pielmeier
Directed by Amy Lovato
Cloverdale Performing Arts Center
For tickets / schedule :
Cloverdale Performing Arts Center

RUN: April 21-30, 2017
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(April 21, 2017)

Agnes of God at Cloverdale Performing Arts Center

Photo from Cloverdale Performing Arts Center

A bleak cross dominates the unadorned stage and a psychiatrist steps into the light, captivating the audience with an honest examination of how she came to find her own faith away from the Catholic Church, tugging at a cigarette and contemplating what brought her to the steps of a convent. Sister Agnes was found bleeding in her room, a suffocated newborn stuffed in the waste basket, while claiming no knowledge of the child—is she insane, lying, or so innocent that she did not understand what was happening? Agnes of God is the clash of two powerhouse women who have the same goal of helping the young sister, but with entirely different notions on how to do so.

John Pielmeier’s play has a way of tripping up expectations, shifting reason from one character to the next until it is difficult to fathom who knows the truth. On the surface, Mother Miriam Ruth appears to be a cliché authoritarian who is suspicious of newfangled notions from Vatican II. The play strips away her façade to show a deeply troubled woman with a failed marriage, two children who despise her, and nearly shattered belief in God. Athena Gundlach’s portrayal is sensitive to the multi-faceted woman, eyes glowing when she describes her love of Agnes, and pragmatic in her assertion to the audience that her character is a regular person who is not losing her mind, simply grasping for something to give life meaning.

Agnes of God - Cloverdale Performing Arts Center

Photo from Cloverdale Performing Arts Center

Dr. Livingstone struggles with her own demons, drawing strength from the intellect and natural confidence. Elizabeth Henry gives a heartfelt performance, transitioning from hardened professional to the shaken closing monologue of a woman questioning her entire belief structure. Pristinely naïve Sister Agnes, Isabella Peregrina, is haunted by her vindictive mother in a terrifying ghost story that overshadows the play. It may be all in the nun’s head, but I could feel the goose bumps as she shrieked, blood pouring out of stigmata in her hands, weeping that she was being punished by her dead mother.

The three women, often present but not active in the scene, are staged in a triangular formation by director Amy Lovato, invoking a Trinitarian feel. Dramatic chiaroscuro lighting design by Yave Guzman keeps attention focused on the speaker, while adding a supernatural sensation to flashbacks. Agnes of God in Cloverdale is a chilling ghost story and powerful depiction of women delving into who they are at the core, questioning assumptions and challenging the Church. It shows the dark side of convents without vilifying nuns, who are doing the best they can as flawed human beings. It is worth the drive to Cloverdale for this mesmerizing production.