Bunclody/Kilmyshall Drama Group with ‘Agnes of God’ by John Pielmeier

Setting

The stage is mainly bare with minimal furniture / props and is of an abstract nature. The scenes flow from one to another without pause. This is a play of light and shadows where characters appear and disappear. The play is one of the mind and miracles.

Synopsis

Summoned to a convent, Dr. Martha Livingstone, a court-appointed psychiatrist, is charged with assessing the sanity of a novitiate accused of murdering her newborn. Miriam Ruth, the Mother Superior, determinedly keeps young Agnes from the doctor, arousing Livingstone’s suspicions further. Who killed the infant and who fathered the tiny victim? Livingstone’s questions force all three women to re-examine the meaning of faith and the power of love leading to a dramatic, compelling climax. A hit on Broadway and later on film.

Cast

Doctor Martha Livingstone Mairéad Connaughton
Mother Miriam Ruth Josephine Byrne
Agnes Kate Power

Crew

Director Kieran Tyrell
Stage Manager Liam Farrell
Lighting Fran Breen
Kevin McEvoy
Sound Grace Dunbar
Make-Up Gerry Kinsella
Special Effects Liam Byrne
Production Co-Ordinator Rory Kinsella
Set Design Chris Atkinson
Kieran Tyrell
Set Painting Niall O’ Muirí
Costumes Gerry Kinsella
Marian McDonald
Set Construction Chris Atkinson
Denny Hanlon
Michael Dunbar
John Masterson
John Dunne
Liam Farrell
Jim Druhan
Props Barbara Mc Combe
Backstage Catherine Finn
Conor Stephenson

About The Group

The group was formed in 1998 and has been appearing on the festival circuit ever since. In 2007 the group won the All Ireland Confined Drama Final. Since then they have appeared in the Open Finals in Athlone on four occasions, 2009, 2012, 2015 and 2016, winning many acting and stage management awards.

Summary of Adjudicator’s Comments

Adjudicator Geoff O’Keeffe noted that ‘Agnes of God’ was first produced on Broadway in 1982 and was also adapted as a film starring Jane Fonda. The play features an “epic battle of wills between faith and science”, with a psychiatrist given the task of assessing the sanity of a novitiate nun accused of murdered her new newborn baby.

Issues such as self-justification of belief systems, religious fanaticism and mental illness are touched upon. It is “a play of light and shadows” according to the author. In terms of set design, the challenge is to create a minimalist setting that will serve the actors. The adjudicator felt this production’s set design (overseen by Chris Atkinson and Kieran Tyrrell) was “totally appropriate to the needs of the play”. A number of aspects of the set received favourable comments and they helped to give “an ethereal quality” to the play. “The setting helped to tell the story so well,” said the adjudicator.

The lighting (overseen by Ciaran Healy) helped to create “a very good differentiation between past and present”. The black screen at the back helped to create “beautiful pictures” for the audience. As for sound, the adjudicator said this play “needs someone who can sing and haunt us and bring us into another world and we got that tonight” (through the singing of Agnes).

Mr O’Keeffe said “the three actresses responded to the demands” of their roles, and the director was served so well by their performances. In general, the pace of the action “cracked on” in satisfactory fashion, but the adjudicator felt it “slowed very slightly” during the first hypnotism scene. The actors responded to each other very well and the “wonderful entrance” of Agnes was highly commended and she showed a “beautiful vulnerability” from the start. Agnes had “an amazing smile which was beguiling to watch”.

There was “great confrontation” between Doctor Martha Livingstone and Mother Miriam Ruth. But as some scenes in the play are slightly repetitive, the adjudicator felt there could have been more variety in the actors’ positions on the stage.

In Act 2, there was so much that was “powerful”, according to the adjudicator, who said the birthing scene was “amazing to watch”. In addition, the “final revelation” that Agnes had killed her baby was “stunning to watch”. Praising the production, the adjudicator wondered where they got the blood in the relevant scene in Act 2! Overall, there was “so much that was admirable” in this production.

Turning to the actors, the adjudicator said Mairéad Connaughton (Doctor Martha Livingstone), the psychiatrist who was “carrying her own demons”, delivered “a very considered characterisation”, showing the strength and vulnerability of her character. She gave “a very strong performance” with her vocal delivery highlighted favourably.

Josephine Byrne (Mother Miriam Ruth) had a “very strong presence” in the role of Mother Miriam Ruth, the protector of hidden secrets. She explored “the layers of this character” in what was “very committed work”.

Kate Power, in the role of the “innocent” and “childlike” Agnes, gave “a totally centred performance”. She was “fully committed to the complexities of the role” in what was “quite exquisite work”.

Overall, the creative team responded appropriately to the needs of the play, the lighting in particular. There were “engaging characterisations” and some “very fine moments”, noted the adjudicator. The treatment of the repetitive scenes could be “reconsidered but, overall, “this production suggested that Agnes may have indeed come from God”.