Agnes of God Review – Truth is Stranger than Fiction

Bunmi Famuylwa, Sarah Dennis, and Mouchette van Helsdingen in AGNES OF GOD - Photo courtesy of Morgan-Wixson Theatre
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Written by John Pielmeier in 1978 and first produced in 1979 in Connecticut, AGNES OF GOD premiered on Broadway in 1982, where it received one Tony Award for Best Featured Actress, followed by a run in London in 1983. In 1985, AGNES OF GOD was made into a film starring Anne Bancroft, Jane Fonda, and Meg Tilly and received three Oscar nominations. Playwright Pielmeier said that he was inspired by a tragic news article telling the story of a pregnant nun whose strangled baby was found dead in a wastebasket. The father was never named, and the nun was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Pielmeier chose to use word play in the title: AGNES OF GOD is a play on the Latin words Agnus Dei (Lamb of God).

Bunmi Famuylwa and Sarah Dennis – Photo courtesy of Morgan-Wixson Theatre

Morgan-Wixson’ Theatre’s Director Zoe Lesser described the play as “Rosemary’s Baby” meets docudrama meets “The Exorcist…the play deals with bodily autonomy and faith on a heightened level that demands us to questions why we believe what we believe, while maybe reconsidering the values we reject.” As their seventy-seventh season opener, Santa Monica’s Morgan-Wixson Theatre is proud to present AGNES OF GOD to modern audiences in 2024.

Bunmi Famuylwa and Mouchette van Helsdingen – Photo courtesy of Morgan-Wixson Theatre

The time is the 1970s, and the place is a convent housing a group of cloistered nuns. Psychiatrist Dr. Martha Livingstone (Bunmi Famuylwa) has been appointed by the Court to make a critical determination in the criminal trial of Sister Agnes (Sarah Dennis). She must decide whether or not Sister Agnes was sane and in full use of her faculties when the new-born child was strangled. The problem? Sister Agnes says that she was never pregnant and never delivered a baby on that fateful night. Her Mother Superior Miriam Ruth (Mouchette van Helsdingen) is totally in her corner and is convinced that Sister Agnes is “different…special… and touched by God…an innocent.” After all, Sister Agnes sings like an angel and epitomizes the definition of virginal and pure. The conundrum? How to separate the spiritual from the mundane, especially when issues of faith are involved. Dr. Livingstone’s conclusion? You’ll have to see the play to find out whether or not you agree with her final determination.

Bunmi Famuylwa, Sarah Dennis, and Mouchette van Helsdingen – Photo courtesy of Morgan-Wixson Theatre

Skillfully directed by Zoe Lesser, AGNES OF GOD is a fascinating study of faith vs. facts. Lesser is ably assisted by the excellent cast who literallhy inhabit the bodies of the three protagonists. Famuylwa is perfection as the rational evaluator; Dennis manages to glow with a virtual halo around her head. Helsdingen is the stalwart mother hen protecting her vulnerable charge. Flashbacks are rendered through videos projected on a back screen designed by Nita Mendoza, with set design by Jack Hagen, lighting by Jimmy Balistreri, and sound by Zoe Lesser.

Sarah Dennis – Photo courtesy of Morgan-Wixson Theatre

AGNES OF GOD presents an intriguing intellectual challenge; as such, it is a word-heavy study of three women asked to solve a problem which has no genuine solution. It is definitely thought-provoking and gripping. It is also the perfect showcase for three talented actors. AGNES OF GOD remains timely in a country sharply divided along ideological lines tapping into education, individual rights, and religion.

AGNES OF GOD Poster – Courtesy of Morgan-Wixson Theatre

ALICE OF GOD runs through May 26, 2024, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. The Morgan-Wixson Theatre is located at 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90405. Tickets are $25 (seniors $23, Students $20). For information and reservations, 310-828-7419 or go online.


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