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Agnes of God

As an avid watcher of school theatre productions in high school, I was instantly drawn to the winter show that the theatre program advertised, a controversial piece titled Agnes of God. My initial decision was further cemented when a friend of mine wanted to audition for the lead role of Agnes and thus cornered us to use as her personal audience. As I watched her deliver the monologue that is, quite possibly, one of Agnes’s most heartbreaking, I realised that this was not a show I could miss.

            If you didn’t get to see the phenomenal show, then I’ll do my best to give you a teaser without spoiling too much for you. While it’s too late to see WVWC’s theatre students in action, it’s not too late to search out the original cast’s performance (which I highly recommend). 

            First things first, there are only three cast members: Agnes, the mother superior of the convent, Miriam Ruth, and a psychiatrist by the name of Dr. Martha Livingstone. Due to the small size of the cast, the decision was made to actually have two casts- Cast A and Cast B. As soon as I heard that, I knew I had to see both of them.

            Agnes of God is a modern show and takes place in two settings: a convent and Dr. Livingstone’s office. Agnes is under investigation for the apparent murder of her new-born daughter, and Dr. Livingstone is the court-ordered psychiatrist in charge of determining if Agnes is fit for trial. Though impeded by Mother Miriam at every turn, Dr. Livingstone works tirelessly to instead try and solve the case herself and determine the truth behind the baby’s conception and death.

            Cast A and Cast B rehearsed completely separate from each other and worked in different directions with their characters. Then, starting Thursday February 23, they alternated nights, Cast A starting out that evening at 8:00 and then relinquishing the stage for Cast B the next night and so on.

            Sarah Smith was such a haunting Agnes. The character’s inner thoughts can be interpreted in so many ways, and it was obvious almost immediately that Cast A wasn’t interested in doing it for us. She kept herself guarded, constantly making the audience wonder whether or not Agnes was as innocent as she seemed. However, there were several moments when Sarah was able to really portray hard emotions that left all of us in a state of shock.

            Her protector, the pleasantly snappy Mother Miriam, was played by Anne Wilson in Cast A, a great actress for some of the humour that occasionally slipped out from under the head-dress. It was obvious that she had taken on an almost maternal role for her character. Despite the parting of styles between casts including less scenes with Mother Miriam and Agnes side-by-side in Cast A’s portrayal, Anne was able to effectively communicate the direction she was going in- a mother hen clucking and furiously protecting what she saw as her chance at redemption in Agnes.

            One of the main differences that Cast A brought to the table was Dr. Livingstone’s relationship with Agnes. As a psychology major, perhaps I’m biased when I say that the character was my favourite, and Kaitlin Kouns’s interpretation was phenomenal. As Dr. Livingstone digs deeper into the story behind Agnes, Katlin is able to portray an attachment to the young woman that further explains her developing obsession- something the lines of the play hint at but may not be shown if the actress doesn’t make the effort.

            Furthermore, Cast A seemed to really enjoy symbolism. According to the directors, the set-up of the stage was meant to hold more value than just where they decided to have the therapist office and the convent. Things of a more secular nature always happened in Dr. Livingstone’s office on stage left, but the religious and perhaps even supernatural elements took place on stage right. The scenes where Mother Miriam and Agnes were separated were spent on opposite sides of the stage- Miriam in the logical side in the office and Agnes over in the religious side as the strange events surrounding her pregnancy take place.

            Cast B was a whole new show. Something I admired about the two casts were their ability to completely go in almost two different directions with the same script. When I sat down for the second time in the Performing Arts Centre to see Cast B, I expected that I might not have to really pay attention because it was essentially the same show. Boy, was I wrong.

            Annika Naylor’s take on Agnes was the first thing I noticed. Where Sarah was sombre, Annika was childish. Her voice was evidence enough of Agnes’s young age, but then Annika took it the step further. From the beginning, I listened to her, watched her, and thought, “Okay, there’s no way this girl could have murdered anyone.” She was just so… angelic. That’s not to say that Sarah lacked any angelic qualities, but the way Annika portrayed the character left you with more of the sense that she was not from this world.

            While watching Karly Hunt’s Mother Miriam, I thought immediately of the strict nuns from Catholic schools in movies. She was brisk and even joking seemed to be on her toes. None of the looseness of Anne’s portrayal was present… except with Agnes. Where Sarah and Anne were apart, Karly and Annika were together. She put the emphasis on Mother in her portrayal, which was good for an audience that was begging for this childlike Agnes to have a mother.

            Maya’s Dr. Livingstone didn’t fill that role. The obsession was less maternal and just an obsession. However, the way Maya delivered her lines with dry wit had me rolling. Her acting was definitely up there, and we learned during the first act that she doesn’t even really need a body mic to project. I still get chills from her last monologue.

            If you didn’t see Agnes, find a way to watch some version of it. Either YouTube it or find the movie. (Unless you’re a Christian from India, where it’s banned, apparently.) Without giving too much away, you’d be a bad baby if you don’t try to see it.

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