Existential matters

By Tom Helma

LCC’s ‘Agnes of God’ puts faith through the wringer

On a black box stage, less is more. Three shrouds of ghostly gauze with projected wrought-iron outlines of Review stained glass windows convey the sense of a cloistered convent. Two chairs are enough furniture for an entire play.

A trio of three strong performances anchor Lansing Community College’s production of John Pielmeier’s “Agnes of God.” Kelly McNabb, in the role of psychiatrist Martha Livingston, owns the black box stage, narrating the story and being fully present for the entire performance. McNabb, much younger than the character she portrays, projects a presence beyond her years as the postmenopausal, flawed professional.

Seasoned veteran Oralya Garza is the formidable Mother Superior Sister Miriam, a worthy and articulate foil for Livingston. They battle for the soul and sanity of Agnes, a delusional victim of sexual abuse, abandoned by a criminal mother and sent to the convent for protection from the world. Miriam and Livingston clash on messy matters of faith and science and create a complex and convoluted dance attempting to establish compassionate control over the fate of Agnes.

Devaughn Staley as Agnes holds her own.

She floats on and off stage in a semi-psychotic trance, often interrupted by great labile sweeps of frightening emotion, displaying the innocence of an 11-year-old combined with a surreal spiritual presence.

None of this superb acting would be possible without the smooth entrances and exits choreographed by director Paige Dunckel. The entire play is one uninterrupted flow of movement in and out of the shadows, provided by thick black shrouds of curtains here and there.

Pielmeier’s script does not allow for concrete, black-and-white thinking. Just when you think Sister Miriam is going to go all faith-based, she reveals her issues with the church; in response, the scornful, secular Dr. Livingston reveals equally dark secret struggles with faith. There are moments when the

intellectual arguments of both characters turn on a dime, each effectively arguing the position of the other. Garza and McNabb have been well schooled on the importance of interactive dialogue and do not miss a beat.

“Agnes of God” is a provocative play that invites reflection on important existential matters. Whether we are using science to search for enduring truth or expressing faith as we search for meaning, neither journey is without moments of doubt and uncertainty. And sometimes as we search, there are unintended consequences that cause others to suffer.

“Agnes of God”

Lansing Community College Theatre Through Saturday, Oct. 12 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday LCC Black Box Theatre, Room 168 Gannon Bldg. $10 adults/$5 students, seniors, LCC alumni (517) 483-1488