Mystery and Faith Explored in AGNES OF GOD at South Camden Theatre Company

by Ruth K. Brown

In true South Camden Theatre Company (SCTC) style, they chose for their latest production a piece of theatre that is complex. AGNES OF GOD operates on both intellectual and religious levels of thought. AGNES OF GOD also is a difficult piece of theatre to understand … both for the cast and for the audience. The SCTC cast under the direction of Joe Paprzycki succeeded in following the mysterious aspects of the sensational murder while leaving a sense of skirting the religious essences.

Paprzycki keeps all three performers on stage throughout the production. The staging places the psychiatrist, Dr. Livingstone, at center stage where she delivers her monologues and other key actions take place. There is no placement in the powerful downstage right area, but convent head, Mother Miriam Ruth, sits upstage there. Agnes, the accused novitiate, also remains upstage opposite Mother. While this blocking works to simulate the almost suffocating atmospheres of the office and convent, it does allow audience attention to wander when focus should be clearly one place or another. AGNES OF GOD is a play about causations and faith and belief. Author John Pielmeier’s dialogue is dense with both mental and moral arguments. Paprzycki understood and focused on the importance of the dialogue and therefore minimized stage movement. Nothing about the play seemed static; however, and tension was successfully built through the language and delivery of it.

Susan Dewey, as Mother Miriam Ruth and Dana Haberern as Agnes. (Photos credit: Robert Bingaman)

Paprzycki and his cast of women plunge headlong into the complications of these disparate personalities and display their foibles very well on stage. Nancy Bennett as Dr. Martha Livingstone conveys the sophistication and intellectualism required by a psychiatrist and yet as her relationship with Agnes deepens, Bennett effectively reveals her emotional connections to her and her “need” to find Agnes legally guiltless. While Dr. Livingstone is presented as a chain smoker, the decision to use an e-cigarette which never left her hand, was distracting and prevented Bennett from effectively gesturing during Act I. Mother Miriam Ruth is played with emotional intensity by Susan Dewey. From her opening lines one can tell that Mother cares for Agnes and wishes no harm to come to her. Dewey carries that throughout the production. Mother’s tension with Dr. Livingstone is carefully drawn and acted. The extreme positions of faith and miracles are initiated by Dewey and countered by Bennett but fall away under the need to solve the murder mystery. Finding herself loved by two desperate women for two desperate reasons, Agnes is played with craft by Dana Haberern. Haberern has a childlike vocal quality that supported her portrayal of Agnes as a vulnerable, innocent child with a deep faith in God that is being severely questioned.

While there are questions of a religious nature inextricably bundled inside the problem solving dialogue, Paprzycki and his cast focused on bringing the audience into the world of “Who killed the baby?” It was a decision that was effectively supported by the performances as well as the technical elements.

For anyone who enjoys a mystery and meeting fascinating characters along the way, AGNES OF GOD will provide you exactly what you seek.

Written by John Pielmeyer
Directed by Joseph M. Paprzycki
January 9 – 25, 2015
The Waterfront South Theatre
400 Jasper Street
South Camden, NJ 08104

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