Back to Stage

A challenging, verbose theatrical tradition

Three strong performances anchor a murky mystery at the heart of a nun’s convent

While the show may have its flaws, Agnes of God has three fiery performances at its core. Photo credit: Jason Ganwich

Recommend Article
Total Recommendations (0)
Clip Article Email Article Print Article Share Article

In theater, there's a sea of closed-room dramas that are designed around two or three characters coming at each other to try and suss out the truth of a morally complex mystery. Think plays like Doubt, Tape, or Oleanna -- explosive depictions of conflict between people who have everything to lose by not being able to argue their side convincingly enough to avoid further scrutiny. While the mysteries at the heart of these stories are vital to their appeal, they more serve as structural devices on which to lay greater thematic concerns, while also functioning as character studies, as well as allowing actors to sink their teeth into meaty roles.

Agnes of God, now being put up by Dukesbay Theater, is right in line with this challenging, verbose theatrical tradition.

The story centers around three women: headstrong psychiatrist Dr. Martha Livingstone (Maria Valenzuela), defensively spiritual Mother Miriam Ruth (Laurie Sifford), and mentally scattered Sister Agnes (Cecilia Lewis). Livingstone has been appointed by a judge to determine if the young Agnes, the suspect in a manslaughter trial, is in her right mind. Why? Agnes, who had previously not been known to be pregnant, was found in her convent dorm with a newborn baby discarded in a nearby waste basket, and Agnes lay bloody, unconscious nearby. The Mother Superior is present to argue for Agnes' innocence (and perhaps some form of divine intervention), while Livingstone wants to untangle Agnes' trauma and understand just what could've led to this tragedy.

With the pieces all in place, Agnes of God is free to set its protagonists off against one another, with Livingstone's various interrogations and psychoanalyses of the Mother and Agnes serving to both ratchet up the tension and muddy the waters of what ends up being a fairly straightforward story: with all the strands of firecracker themes to work with (abuse, the potential heartbreak of child birth, organized religion, mental health, crises of faith, etc.), director Nyree Martinez seems to emphasize a few, while leaving others undernourished. Part of the problem lies with the script, which takes a shotgun blast approach to hot-button issues, but the last half, especially, feels a little rushed. Tonal problems aren't helped by the dialogue, which mixes a staccato, David Mamet-esque rhythm with more naturalistic, slice-of-life conversations.

I admit that I'm only as hard as I am on Dukesbay's Agnes of God because so much of it works, beginning with those all-important performances. Livingstone, functioning as both participant and narrator, lends a steady hand to the proceedings, while also allowing a hesitant warmth to come through. Sifford infuses the Mother with a casually comedic edge that distances the character from what might usually be thought of as a stuffy busybody, but her lingering sadness is felt. Lewis is dealt the toughest hand of all, given a role that may as well have "addled" as her defining characteristic, but she gradually fleshes it out into a deeply painful performance. Agnes of God has its flaws, but those three performances are well worth seeing.

AGNES OF GOD, 7:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, through March 17, $15, Dukesbay Theater, 508 Sixth Ave. #10, Tacoma, 253.350.7680,

Read next close


Three Easy Pieces

comments powered by Disqus

Site Search