Drama students contend with religion and philosophy in Agnes of God premiere
She motions in one swift movement, which seems so natural, how she violated the sixth commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.” Agnes, a nun whose memory of that fateful night has vanished, claims she is innocent.
But as events unfold, Agnes realizes her darkest fears have only been hidden deep inside the crevices of her mind. This is the tragic story of Agnes of God, directed by Professor Vaughn West. Agnes of God, a theatrical production, was performed from Oct. 11 to Oct. 15 in the Wright Theatre.
“I never saw any baby,” Agnes preached to the gathered audience. Throughout this play, Agnes denied the fact that she used her baby’s umbilical cord to put him in a sleep that he could not awake from.
Agnes constantly believed she was innocent and that the police created this crime. For Ashley Simeone, who played Agnes, this character was one that was complicated to portray. “Playing a nun is difficult, and knowing enough of that background to do it believably, and then on top of this character in general, she’s not of the same mental capacity of most people, so that was a lot of research,” Simeone said. Agnes, whose life plays out in a mystical trance, is fed the idea she is innocent by Mother Miriam Ruth, also known as Mother Superior, played by Sarah Mathews. Mother Superior, who witnessed Agnes’ devastating actions, claims she was not in the room when the murder took place. For Mathews, pretending like she did not know any information about that fateful night proved to be a daunting task. “I had to portray this original feeling of ‘I’m sweet, I’m loving, I’m innocent’ and then I also had to portray to the audience that I didn’t know anything; this is what I believed, this is how I really felt,” Mathews said.
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Throughout the play, Mother Superior enabled Agnes to believe that the crime was concocted in the police’s imagination. Repeatedly verbalizing false facts such as “She didn’t murder a child, she was not conscious at the time, she was an innocent,” led not only Agnes to believe she was not guilty, but also her psychiatrist, Dr. Martha Livingstone, played by Jessie Thomina, and the audience as well. “I feel like the first scene between Dr. Livingstone and Mother is when she really shows her true colors; she is sneaky, but at the same time she is trying to smooth everything out,” Mathews said. Throughout the play, Mother Superior constantly claimed there were no clues to Agnes’ pregnancy. This pregnancy was an act of God.
“She’s an innocent. She’s a slate that has not been touched, except by God,” Mother Superior alleged. “The play is about faith in science, faith in God, faith in whatever one wants to have faith in. In some ways the play is about the crisis of faith of an Atheist,” West said. But for others, this play is not just about defending a person’s faith to the end; it is about discovering that faith is not always enough to verify reality. Dr. Livingstone believes “God is a moronic fairytale.” She had exhausted herself into believing in science over religion so much that she became blinded by Agnes’ trance.
“She believes in science, she believes in knowledge. And she finds out it doesn’t work,” West said. Belief was the one element that each of these characters possessed. Each character believed in something. Whether it was God, innocence, or science, each belief was interchangeably interlocked with one another. In order to convey each of these beliefs, director Vaughn West had to find a common theme resonating from the script. “You start by reading it. I had actually seen the production of it years ago, but it was far enough in the past that it didn’t affect me all that much. And as I read it, I would get images in my head, certainly things I would see happening at certain moments, and that starts to give you the shape of what you think it’s going to be and then you build from that. In this case the word that kept coming to my mind, and it’s repeated in the play, is the word obsession. And that word sort of told me how I wanted to stage this production,” West said. Obsession was the one sin that Dr. Livingstone, Mother Superior, and Agnes were all guilty of. Obsessed with preaching their various beliefs of the truth- beliefs of what occurred the night Agnes became God’s victim. Agnes of God illustrated the idea that sometimes one’s belief is not enough to save oneself from the harsh realities of the world. “Theatre is ultimately about the human condition and what it means to be human. And this play deals with a very important aspect of that. What sustains us as people, it’s more than just food and water and material things. It is a need to believe in something, a need to see beyond ourselves,” West said.
Samantha Norton can be contacted at email@example.com