Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Dr. Martha Livingstone, a court-appointed psychiatrist, is assigned to assess the sanity of a young nun named Agnes who lives in an isolated convent and who has been accused of murdering her newborn baby. But Agnes claims to have no memory of giving birth to the infant. And just who fathered the child? Did faith play a part in the birth and death of the child, or is Agnes a mentally unstable woman who killed her baby? Livingstone squares off with the convent's Mother Superior as secrets and the truth are revealed.
It's very clear from the well-written drama that both Livingstone and the Mother Superior care about Agnes, though they try to help her in very different ways. Pielmeier's work doesn't just pit these compassionate and forceful women against each other, it also shows the battle between the views of science and logic, in the form of Livingstone's atheist beliefs, against those of religion and faith represented by the character of Mother Superior. Stuck in the middle is Agnes, the innocent childlike woman. The dialogue is full of intensity and realism, and the playwright has fleshed out his characters so they are well-formed, three-dimensional women. And on top of this he also has crafted an engaging murder mystery.
With just a few pieces of furniture, character-specific costumes, and a gifted cast, director Jeanna Michaels has beautifully brought Pielmeier's work to vibrant life. The simplicity of the creative elements lets the complexity of the characters, the detailed plot, and the themes shine brightly with minimal distraction. Only the use of a couple of short video segments to portray flashback scenes is a bit of a disconnect. Having these scenes play out on an overhead screen isn't quite as effective as they would be if they were delivered live, so the emotional aspects of these movements would be more intense.
Michaels also plays Dr. Livingstone. As this strong, educated woman, Michaels is adept in showing how Livingstone struggles with her own logic and convictions and how the events of her rough and raw past have formed and influenced her to resent religion. Megan Holcomb is superb as Agnes, an isolated woman whose mother, we learn, not only shielded her from society but also abused her. Holcomb's downcast eyes, hunched over posture, childish voice, and sweet disposition beautifully portray the naïve girl. Yet when Agnes is faced to confront the facts of the death of her child, she becomes frantic and nervous, and Holcomb's portrayal of the insecure, diminutive, terrified and haunted girl is stunning. As Mother Superior, Frances Murphy is very good in showing how this calm and composed woman is protective of Agnes and afraid that if the young woman is exposed to the real world it will tear away her innocence. From Murphy's careful and clear portrayal we understand how she wants to believe in modern-day miracles, yet we also see how she starts to question the foolishness of her own beliefs.
While at first Agnes of God appears to be an intricate murder mystery, it is a superbly calculated and cunning raw character study of three very different women and an intense drama that portrays the views of society concerning faith and facts, as all three women question their own beliefs and who they are. With precise, confident performances, Compass Players presents a beautiful, powerful production of this provocative play that draws distinct lines between faith and reality and the presence or absence of God.
Compass Players' Agnes of God, through December 17th, 2017, at the Peoria Center for the Performing Arts, 8355 West Peoria Avenue in Peoria AZ. For tickets and information, visit www.compassplayers.com or call 623-815-7930.
Directed by Jeanna Michaels