The Daily News Record

October 17 2017                                                                                                           A 'Complicated' Character: Valley Playhouse Takes On Powerful 'Agnes of God'                                                                                                                              Shelby Mertens                                                                                                    

A nun in New York discovers she’s pregnant. Was it a virgin conception as she claims? And who kills the baby?

“Agnes of God” skirts around these questions while subtly asking the bigger questions of human existence. Valley Playhouse is performing the powerful drama at Court Square Theater until Oct. 22.

Director Tom Arthur is using the script written by John Pielmeier in 1982. A film of the play was then released in 1985.

“It’s really beautifully written, and it raises a very serious question in a comical and ironic way and is approached with great depth,” Arthur said.

Arthur has directed dozens of Valley Playhouse productions over the years. He helped start the theater program at James Madison University in 1973 and served as the department head.

The role of Agnes is played by Emma Leweke, 21, a senior theater major at Bridgewater College. Agnes has a “beautiful, angelic” voice that will be heard through the production’s musical numbers.

“My character is a young of mind and heart woman who is frightened of her past, frightened of things she’s done, frightened of things that have been done to her, and she’s working through how to admit to some of those things and telling people about some of the trauma she’s faced, while owning up to some things that she’s done,” Leweke said.

Dr. Martha Livingstone, a court-appointed psychiatrist, visits the convent after Agnes’ baby dies. The Mother Superior tries to protect Agnes from the psychiatrist in fear of a scandal that would put Agnes in jail.

It’s up to the audience to decide how Agnes conceived her child and whether Agnes is innocent of the infant’s death. And, if she did commit the crime, was she sane?

“It’s really left up to the audience about how she gets pregnant, whether it’s a divine thing from God or if she was raped, or if she seduced someone,” Leweke said. “People who come from a faith background might believe that it was divine, and other people might not.”

But Arthur said the question of a virgin birth isn’t as important. The main point of the play is to explore the depth of wonder.

“What do we do if we don’t believe in anything anymore?” he asked. “That’s a problem that we face today. We can explain, or we think we can explain everything, but if we don’t respect the singularity of what we are, the oddness of what we are, the wonderfulness of what we are, what are we? We’re just machines.”

Although the play takes on serious topics, Arthur said the script is full of ironic humor and pop culture references that the audience will appreciate. The stage will be simple: just two chairs with a table in between. The lighting, however, sets the mood.

Leweke said Agnes has been a pleasure to play on the stage, as she can relate to her on some level.

“She’s very complicated,” she said. “I’ve really enjoyed getting into her character and figuring out what goes on in her mind. And even now, I still don’t understand her.”

The remaining showtimes are Oct. 19-21 at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 22 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $12 in advance or $14 at the door for adults. Senior tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door.
Tickets can be purchased online.