Carrollton — Agnes of God, by John Pielmeier and currently being staged by 3 Cords Theatre at The Plaza Arts in Carrollton, centers on a young nun accused of killing her newborn infant. The accused claims to have no memory of the conception, birth or the death of the child. Is Agnes an innocent, a saint or a woman driven to a horrifying act by the demons of her past? The beauty of Agnes of God is that it offers no simple answers, but takes an empathetic look at faith, miracles and the power of the mind.
The original Broadway production earned Amanda Plummer a Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Play for her portrayal of Agnes. The movie version starred Jane Fonda as the chain smoking psychiatrist brought in to determine Agnes’ sanity, Anne Bancroft as Mother Superior and Meg Tilly as Agnes.
At first glance Agnes of God looks like an obvious choice for a fledgling theater company. There are only three characters, and it doesn’t require complex sets or costumes. But as the heavy hitters who originated the roles indicate, this is a difficult script requiring strong actors to navigate it. Fortunately the trio at 3 Cords, directed by Bill Sizemore, comes through superbly.
Dr. Martha Livingstone (Judy Sizemore) is the psychiatrist called in to question Agnes. Sizemore gives a rich performance as a woman who has turned her back on religion, but as she begins to interact with Agnes, she once again questions her own beliefs. The role is demanding, as Livingstone is on stage for the entire play, but Sizemore demonstrates a steady and grounded presence throughout.
Cynthia Matthews also shines as she slowly reveals how deeply Mother Superior wants to believe in miracles. She is not a typical cloistered pedant but a woman who’s seen her fair share of life’s cruelties. The play’s subject matter, rife with child abuse, infanticide and mental instability could have been unrelenting. But Pielmeier has endowed the Mother Superior with a sharp wit. A sequence between Livingstone and Mother Superior about which brand of cigarettes Joan of Arc would smoke, turns into witty, rapid fire exchange between the two.
Agnes (Connie Marie Brown) is by far the most difficult role. Brown has a beautiful singing voice, which is integral to the part and she brings power to many of her scenes, particularly when she relives the past that continues to haunt her. The abuse of her childhood has colored how she sees the world, and at times her rapid transformation from angelic presence to a young woman possessed with fury are not completely smooth, yet overall Brown achieves a quality that illustrates why those around her believe she may be “touched by God.”
3 Cords is a new company, producing their second show in the Plaza Arts space. It’s clear that 3 Cords is a lean operation, but they are producing excellent work. It would be simply heavenly if this quality theater company could find a permanent home.