Photo: Claude Haché
We go see plays for a number of reasons. Sometimes, it’s to take refuge from the real world in fiction. Other times, it’s to laugh or cry. Still other times, we seek to be blown away, gutted, stung by a story and left to pick up the pieces, one by one, for ourselves. Coupled with good directing and acting, these are the latter are stories that stay with us indefinitely, make us question what we think, and burrow themselves into our very being. John Pielmeier’s Agnes of God is just one such story and, under Marc-André Charron’s direction, 9th Hour theatre’s production lives up to the story’s potential.
Based on real events in the late 1970s, Agnes of God tells the story of Sister Agnes, a young apostle, who was found in her room covered in blood and a newborn infant, its umbilical cord wrapped around its neck, in a wastebasket near her. Now under arrest, but released on bail and staying at her convent until the trial, a psychiatrist, Martha Livingstone, is sent to determine if the young woman is fit to stand trial. Rounding out the three characters is Mother Miriam Ruth, who is more interested in Sister Agnes’, whom she believes to be an innocent touched by God, welfare than the truth. As the story unfolds, it becomes evident that there are more questions than answers, as each of the three women fights with her own thoughts and demons and possibilities seem to come closer to reality.
Agnes of God cleverly intertwines science and religion; logic and faith. it doesn’t provide any hard answers to these questions, leaving the audience rapt in attention and hanging breathlessly on the characters’ every word. This wouldn’t be possible without some masterful directing and Charron lives up to the challenge. He maneuvers the small studio space of the Irvin Greenberg studio with finesse, choreographing the actresses’ movements like a well-oiled dance. The result is mesmerizing; the directing becomes a character in its own right and keeps the audience entranced. Charron’s use of the stage makes what is essentially a bare bones set come to life. Action is interspersed with tableaus that serve to reinforce the pace and message of the play. The use of music was also included very cleverly. Charron finds a way to incorporate the musician into the play itself instead of just an add-on.
Of course, good directing can’t stand on its own and Agnes of God is well served by its actresses. All three roles are incredibly difficult to pull off and, despite a few minor glitches, the cast excelled. Gabrielle Lazarovitz’s Agnes was stunning. She transformed herself in a matter of seconds from demure and calm to screaming and frustrated seamlessly. Whatever side of Agnes she portrayed, the character’s strength and conviction were always evident. From the demure way she looked up with her eyes to a scream of agony which reverberated throughout her entire body, Lazarovitz pouts all her energy into Agnes and succeeds in giving us a character both beautifully simple and deeply complex.
Janet Rice, who plays Mother Miriam Ruth, lost her pacing a couple of times, but her regal portrayal of the Mother Superior more than made up for it. One of the most beautiful things on stage has to be seeing an actor throw themselves into their character with their whole body and Rice did precisely that with Mother Miriam Ruth. Despite the few flaws, she oozed the older nun’s character simply by the way she would sit, place her hands, or by the tilt of her head. Anna Lewis also had a challenging role in Doctor Martha Livingstone. Although there were times where it seemed like an older actress would have been preferable, she pulled off the character pretty well and gave us the impression of a woman who wanted to be there for Agnes, but is so entrenched in her own history and opinions that she finds it quite difficult.
Agnes of God is about faith, but it is mostly about knowing ourselves and the conflict between our own “logic” and beliefs. After all, even the staunchest atheist believes in something. Is it even important to understand the why and how of our own faith, or is it simply enough to try and understand where we stand and marvel at the beauty of our own unknown? It’s a question the play poses, but doesn’t necessarily answer. Don’t worry, though. After seeing this performance, you’ll be seeking your own answers to that question for days and days and what a fulfilling journey it will be!
Agnes of God
By John Pielmeier
Presented by special arrangement with Samuel French, Inc.
Directed by: Marc-André Charron
Composer: Steven Lafond
Production designer: Patti Vopni
Lighting designer: John Solman
Production stage manager: Rachel-Dawn Wallace
Producing Artistic Director: Jonathan Harris
Sister Agnes: Gabrielle Lazarovitz
Doctor Martha Livingstone: Anna Lewis
Mother Miriam Ruth: Janet Rice