In Review: Agnes of God (Spearhead Theatre)

Category: stage 217

“Equal parts biting and compassionate, Agnes of God delivers. A show you won’t want to miss.”

Alexander Rioux
Kelly McAllister as Agnes. Photo by Heather Ogg Photography.

Raw, shocking, and captivating. Spearhead Theatre strongly makes its mark with its inaugural production of John Pielmeier’s Agnes of God. Led by an all female cast and creative team, the show soars with a script that pops, masterful performances, and blood…lots of blood.

Agnes of God originally debuted in 1979 and falls in line with Spearhead Theatre’s mandate to revitalize classic works in a modern context. The show itself still presents themes that are relevant today, most notably the ever-raging argument of faith over fact. The script presents these ideas but doesn’t hold one perspective as absolute giving any audience member something to relate to.

Directed by Tilly Jackson, Agnes of God follows the story of Sister Agnes (Kelly McAllister), a novice nun accused of the murder of her newborn baby, and the clash that emerges between court-ordered psychiatrist Martha Livingstone (Elizabeth Goodyear) and Mother Miriam Ruth (Adeen Ashton) as the secrets of Agnes’s past are dragged into the light. The show is chalk full of challenging subject matter:

Trauma, abuse, sexual assault, and murder to name a few.  

Nonetheless, Jackson’s direction coupled with Pielmeier’s carefully crafted script allows audiences to feel the full emotional weight of these events without feeling bombarded by them.

As soon as you enter you are greeted by a beautiful stained-glass window of the virgin Mary, surrounded by candles. The atmosphere in the Charlotte Street Arts Centre is warm and welcoming. But as the show begins the lights turn to a blood red to foreshadow the grim story that is about to unfold. Nikki Vigneault’s simple and deliberate lighting design excellently emphasises the tone of the show. Particularly in flashbacks where she uses the illuminated stained glass window accompanied by side lighting to provide a sense of secrecy.

Act one opens with a delightfully tense scene between Mother Miriam and Martha, which is followed by an engaging first meeting between Martha and the emotionally unstable Agnes. Ashton, Goodyear, and McAllister handle these complex roles with a great level of care and detail. Goodyear and Ashton’s chemistry is evident as they present two women attempting to mask their personal biases under the guise of objectivity, and how that slowly crumbles over the course of the show.

However, after these first couple of scenes the first act takes a slight dip.

The show progresses through a series of meetings between the three women, usually two at a time with a couple of monologues and flashbacks to break up the monotony. This makes the show feel a bit sluggish, and more could have been done to help keep the tension that was so noticeable at the beginning.

Things pick up again when Martha manages to get Agnes to reveal a tragic chapter of her past. It was then that the audience was reeled back in and stayed hooked for the rest of the performance.

Act two flies at lightning speed, barely giving you time to process all the information that’s being hurdled at you until it reaches it’s gruesome yet beautiful end. McAllister is mesmerising in her last moments on stage as Sister Agnes when she finally reveals her deeply repressed memories of the events leading up to the birth of her baby.

Equal parts biting and compassionate, Agnes of God delivers. A show you won’t want to miss.

Agnes of God runs Sept 4th – 8th (7:30 p.m.) at the Jim Myles Auditorium located in the Charlotte Street Arts Center. There is a 2:00 p.m. matinee on Saturday September 7th and Sunday September 8th.

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