A vivid nun’s story: ‘Agnes of God’ continues through May 1

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Two high back chairs sit separated by only a small, short desk. Sitting tall in one chair is a young woman in a long black dress and habit. Opposite is an older woman, notepad on her knees, ashtray on the table. It’s silent.

A crowd sits watching them, staring straight ahead. There’s one question on everyone’s mind: Did this nun kill her baby?

The questions start. Calmly at first, but the nun grows more agitated under the probing. Finally she can’t take pressure and screams. Her Mother Superior swoops into the office; she and the psychiatrist trade words like knives. When the invader retreats, the older woman, exhausted, steps down from the stage and speaks her thoughts toward the audience.

The Iowa City Community Theater staged Agnes of God this past weekend, with shows continuing through May 1. Agnes of God is the story of a court-appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Livingstone, who must assess the sanity of Agnes, a young nun suspected of killing her newborn child. Livingstone battles the Mother Superior of Agnes’ convent, who believes that the doctor’s questions will only damage the nun.

Written in 1982 by American playwright John Pielmeier, the play is logistically simple. The only set is the psychiatrist’s office, and there are only three roles. But as the Community Theatre shows in its production, it is tense and riveting, an ambitious and challenging performance to put on.

“You only have three people, and each actress has to carry their load, and it’s a very sizable load,” said director Josh Sazon.

The hardest part for him was casting to make sure that each role was perfect.

He chose well. All three actresses were amazing in their performance. Livingstone (Robyn McCright) and Mother Superior (Connie Peschang Stannard) go from circling wolves to uneasy alliance and back again seamlessly. They play a tug and war over the care Agnes (Alexis Russell). Their battle represents the larger theme of the play, science and the need for explanation versus faith and the desire to believe in miracles.

The dialogue is fast-paced, and despite the serious subject matter, there are a quite a few witty jabs back and forth that gave the audience some smiles.

“It definitely wasn’t easy,” Russell said. “Learning those short conversational snippets back and forth.”

Even with a few laughs, Agnes of God is an experience with rising tension as the layers of the young nun’s damaged mind are peeled back. Russell’s performance gave me chills in one scene. This play is not for the faint of heart or for those who need everything neatly wrapped in a bow. It’d raw, intense, and messy.

Agnes of God is superbly well done, and is well worth seeing this weekend. It is excellent show to end the Community Theater’s 60th season.

 

THEATER

Agnes of God

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. May 1

Where: Johnson County Fairgrounds, 4261 Oak Crest Hill

Admission: $9-$17

 

 

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