Tuesday, January 16, 2007

delayed opening-night review of *Agnes of God* at Actors Rep

through Feb. 27 at SFCC's Spartan Theatre

With its intense, claustrophobic staging and generally good performances, director Michael Weaver’s production of *Agnes of God* at Actors Rep (through Jan. 27) does what the opened-up 1985 movie couldn’t: It emphasizes the immediacy of live performance while stripping away extraneous details to concentrate on emotional debates. The result is a play that’s talky but which still offers rewards. Besides, with the Mother Superior trying to obstruct the investigation, we’ve got contemporary resonance. Let’s see, an official in the Catholic hierarchy tries to control public perception of a scandal involving not only sexual abuse but danger to the abused victim. Sound familiar?

Kate Vita finds the remote professional sternness called for in the role of the psychiatrist, but not Dr. Martha Livingstone’s vulnerability or spiritual longing. In a suit and professorial glasses, her hair pulled back into a bun, Vita is all business — except for the neuroses implied by her chain-smoking. The playwright has supplied, a little too neatly, some childhood experiences that crack the shrink’s professional demeanor. Vita needs to show more of the childlike fears and the adult’s near-desperation to believe in something, anything.

From the convent’s nun in chief, we might expect rigid formality, but Jane Fellows surprises us with hints of humor, a secular weakness or two and emotional vulnerability. It’s the most fully rounded of the evening’s three performances.

Weaver keeps all three actors onstage continuously, and he makes sure that one scene flows, sometimes startlingly, into the next. During her expository monologues, however, Vita’s psychiatrist does too much simple back-and-forth pacing. The blocking, usually varied in interesting ways, could have used more variety here.

The set, by Gonzaga’s John Hofland and Sam Schroeder, consists of fragmented pews, with all the emotional confrontations played out in a confined and claustrophobic space. The actors sometimes chase one another from row to row, slipping between pews as if caught in some kind of maze. In the rear, symbolic blood-red umbilical cords tie the playing area to God — or, more literally, to an overhanging depiction of Christ the Good Shepherd tending to His sheep.

The full version of this review will appear in the Thursday, Jan. 18, issue of *The Pacific Northwest Inlander.* It will contain further comments on the themes of Pielmeier's play and on the performance of Caryn Hoaglund as Agnes.


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