MUST SEEREVIEWSTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

Agnes of God

By John Pielmeieragnes of god

Directed by Jacob Christopher Green

Produced by Hubris Productions

At the Greenhouse Theatre

Strong acting propels powerful script in Agnes of God

Hubris productions is quietly amassing a fine body of work over the last few years. Their latest is a moving production of John Pielmeier’s Agnes of God – know as the play about the pregnant nun! This little gem is much more than that – it is a thought-provoking mystery that challenges Christian beliefs and the possibility of Divine intervention in humanity.

When the young novitiate nun, Agnes (Sara Pavlak in a tour de force performance), is charged with manslaughter for killing her newborn moments after giving birth, the court appoints Dr. Livingstone (Barbara Roeder Harris) to evaluate Agnes’ sanity. The Mother Superior (Lorriane Freund) tries to shield Agnes from the probing psychiatrist.  The result is a perplexing mystery and a duel of ideas and wills toward rescuing Agnes from her trauma.

agness of god

When Dr. Livingston hears Agnes chanting Latin hymns and first sees the purely innocent woman – she quickly realizes that Agnes is a ‘special’ person. Mother Superior believes that Agnes is uniquely close to God similar to the saints. The Doctor, herself a former Catholic and now a non-believer, thinks that a form of religious  hysteria has mentally impaired Agnes.  When Agnes slowly opens up to Livingston, we realize that she is totally unable to cope with most parts of social reality. All she know is religion – God – and her abusive (now dead) mother.

Questions dominate: how did Agnes get pregnant since no men were with her in the cloistered nunnery? Does she realize how one gets pregnant? Did she actually kill her newborn? Did someone help her commit the crime? Mother Superior suggests the possibility of a virgin conception – of a miracle from God. Is Agnes a saint or merely a tormented soul due to her mother’s abuse?

The two hour drama unfolds as part battle of wits and beliefs by the two commanding women and part mystery with shades of mysticism from the charismatic Agnes. The lust for power and religion as well as self-justification of one’s belief system fuels the conflict. We are moved, even shook-up by Agnes. Is she an instrument of God or a psychopath?

While Lorraine Freund and Barbara Roeder Harris were excellent as the Mother Superior and the doctor, this show becomes a special theatrical experience by the riveting work from Sara Pavlak as Agnes. Pavlak’s marvelous singing – chanting in Latin – gives her the audio aura that completed when we see her beautiful smile and her bright, loving blue eyes! Miss Pavlak plays Agnes with a most empathetic and innocent manner. Agnes’ shyness and pure loving spirit is seen in Pavlak’s body language, vocal tones and facial expressions. We do believe that she is possibly ‘heaven-sent.’! Sara Pavlak performance as Agnes was so eerie and powerful that she reminds me of Alan in Equus.  Conveying such deep emotions and neurosis on stage is difficult and rarely succeeds but Pavlak achieves Agnes’ angst with aplomb. Her performance is, indeed, worth the ticket price.

Agnes of God is a masterful look into the thin line between religious fanaticism and mental illness; between belief and reality; and between society and established religion. What is to become of Agnes? See this show to find out.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Jeff Recommended

At the Greenhouse Theatre, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL, tickets $25, Thursdays thry Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours with intermission, through April 16, 2011

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