subscribe: Posts | Comments

Agnes of God

0 comments

Sensational Season 6Nine performances of Agnes of God come to the Lab Theater – at 8 p.m. on January 9, 10, 15, 16, 17,  22, 23 and 24 and 2 p.m. on Sunday, January 18, 2015. Doors open 30 minutes before each performance, except opening night, when they Agnes Curtain Call 05sopen at 7:15. In this play by John Pielmeier, three women are drawn together by the death of a child. When a disillusioned psychiatrist is summoned to a convent and meets Sister Agnes, a young novitiate accused of murder, she is deeply moved by the young nun’s spiritual purity. In this section, you will find articles about the play, playwright, director and upcoming production of the show at the Laboratory Theater of Florida (posted in date order from oldest to latest).

Tickets are $12 for students and $22 for adults at the door. The theater also offers Thursday night discounts to seniors and military, at $18.50 per ticket. Individual and season tickets are available on www.brownpapertickets.com by clicking HERE.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

Lab Theater consulted with top psychic Tracy Williams on ‘Agnes of God’ plot and characters (01-22-15)

Tracy Williams 03The final three performances of Agnes of God take place tonight, tomorrow night and Saturday evening as well (see above). But before they ran the first line of dialogue, Lab Theater Artistic Director and her Agnes of God cast did copious research into the plot and characters of playwright John Pielmeier’s classic psychodrama. One source they consulted, however, seems less than obvious, and that was psychic Tracy Williams.

Williams is one of the top psychics in the United States and has appeared in numerous magazines from Cosmopolitan and Globe to Girls’s Life and on radio shows, television programs and the seminar circuit as well. Using the gift passed down from her Tracy Williams 01grandmother, Tracy has worked closely with the FBI, various law enforcement agencies and countless individuals who have sought her assistance and advice on matters such as health, finance, relationships and personal problems.

“Tracy shared her story with us as we prepared for this play,” relates Trossbach. “After all, Agnes hears voices, experiences stigmata, channels her Tracy Williams 02mother and even possibly gave birth as a virgin. Tracy reminds us that miracles occur every day.”

Williams recounts her own paranormal experiences in her 2014 autobiography Blinded by Vision: The Secret Life of a Psychic. When she was 28, she experienced complications from a staph infection following a pregnancy. Near death, Tracy maintains she ascended into a cave filled with golden light, a waterfall, and 13 hooded beings who spoke to her telepathically all at once. Then a soothing voice said, “You’re not done yet. You have to go back. You have a job to do. You’re going to go back and Aggie 04you’re going to be a psychic.” Tracy believes that the voice she heard could only be that of God.

Preferring the term “spiritual consultant,” Williams has conferred ever since with judges, lawyers, psychiatrists, other psychics, police detectives looking for help on cold cases and, now, theatrical directors like Annette Trossbach seeking to understand and properly portray Aggie 05characters who explore the truth behind the constructs of God, religion and modern medicine and science. You can read Tracy’s story in her autobiography. The book is available through Balboa Press and Amazon-Kindle.

And for performance dates, times and ticket information, please see above.

_______________________________________

 

Meet ‘Agnes of God’ star Jennifer Koch (01-19-15)

Aggie 06Recalling the moving film starring Jane Fonda, Anne Bancroft, and Meg Tilly, Lab Theater’s stage version of Agnes of God continues today with a 2 p.m. matinee. Starring powerful local actor Lori Riti as the psychiatrist, one of Southwest Florida’s favorite leading ladies Joann Haley as Mother Superior, and mega-talented newcomer Jennifer Koch as Sister Agnes, the play has garnered raves and accolades from reviewers and theater-goers alike.

Koch appears diminutive ensconced in her all white habit, but there is nothing small about the way in which she portrays the novice nun who is accused of getting pregnant, Aggie 05carrying the child to term and then strangling her newborn without anyone at the cloistered convent knowing except her Mother Superior, who convinces herself that the conception was immaculate. On opening night, Kock routinely stole scenes from Riti and Haley with nothing more than the look in her tortured eyes or the expression on her starched-white-wimpled framed face. But it was her instantaneous mercurial transitions into the painfully conflicted child who had suffered the untold horrors that gave rise to her actions now and in the immediate past that kept the audience on the edge of their seats from the middle of the first act to the end of the play.

Koch was last seen at the Laboratory Theater of Florida in The Rimers of Eldritch and was most recently seen in The Whale at Theatre Conspiracy. Jennifer has been acting since the age of seven and has been in The Pirates of Penzance, The King and I, and Working.

Please see above for remaining dates, times and ticket information.

_________________________________________________

 

Meet ‘Agnes of God’ Mother Superior Joann Haley (01-18-15)

Nun 3Recalling the moving film starring Jane Fonda, Anne Bancroft, and Meg Tilly, Lab Theater’s stage version of Agnes of God continues today with a 2 p.m. matinee. Starring powerful local actor Lori Riti as the psychiatrist, one of Southwest Florida’s favorite leading ladies Joann Haley as Mother Superior, and mega-talented newcomer Jennifer Koch as Sister Agnes, the play has garnered raves and accolades from reviewers and theater-goers alike.

Haley plays conflicted Sister Miriam Ruth, who serves as the Mother Superior of the cloistered convent in which a newborn has been found strangled to death in a wastepaper basket in Aggie 02the room of a novice nun by the name of Sister Agnes. Sister Miriam gives every pretext of defending Sister Agnes from the probing mind and eye of court-appointed psychiatrist Dr. Martha Livingstone (played by Lori Riti), but it was, after all, Sister Miriam who called the police, thereby inviting the subsequent probe. The role calls upon Haley to be stern and severe on the one hand, and soft and vulnerable on the other. It’s not an easy task, but Haley handles the shifts with ease and aplomb.

Laboratory Theater fans will remember Haley as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Queen Gertrude in Hamlet, and Linda Loman in last season’s Death of a Salesman. With Agnes of God, Haley is marking the 19th anniversary of her first stage play, for which she thanks her husband, fellow actor and sometimes director Mitch.

Please see above for remaining dates, times and ticket information.

_________________________________________

 

Meet ‘Agnes of God’ psychiatrist Lori Riti (01-17-15)

Aggie 01Recalling the moving film starring Jane Fonda, Anne Bancroft, and Meg Tilly, Lab Theater’s stage version of Agnes of God continues tonight at 8 p.m. Starring powerful local actor Lori Riti as the psychiatrist, one of Southwest Florida’s favorite leading ladies Joann Haley as Mother Superior, and mega-talented newcomer Jennifer Koch as Sister Agnes, the play has garnered raves and accolades from reviewers and theater-goers alike.

Riti plays the role of Dr. Martha Livingstone, a chain-smoking disillusioned psychiatrist appointed by a criminal court to determine the mental capacity of novice nun Sister Lori RitiAgnes to stand trial for the murder of her newborn baby in a cloistered convent. Riti attacks the role with verve, energy and distinctive angst, and shines during her asides to the audience.

Riti has dabbled in theater all of her life. Since arriving in Southwest Florida in 1987, she has appeared as Kate in Kiss Me Kate, Elaine in Arsenic and Old Lace, the niece in The Sunshine Boys, Nikki in Musical Comedy Murders of 1940, Smitty in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Ms. Casewell in Mousetrap and Mrs. Smith in Meet Me in St. Louis. At Lab Theater, Lori has appeared in The Laramie Project, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, and Standing on Ceremony.

Please see above for remaining play dates, times and ticket information.

___________________________________________________________

 

Theater-goers have their say about Lab Theater’s ‘Agnes of God’ (01-16-15)

Aggie 05Recalling the moving film starring Jane Fonda, Anne Bancroft, and Meg Tilly, Lab Theater’s stage version of Agnes of God continues tonight at 8 p.m. Starring powerful local actor Lori Riti as the psychiatrist, one of Southwest Florida’s favorite leading ladies Joann Haley as Mother Superior, and mega-talented newcomer Jennifer Koch as Sister Agnes, the play has garnered raves and accolades from theater-goers who have already seen the play.

Aggie 02“We see some great live theatre up in Maryland and we have seen some great theatre down here in the winter over the years,” relates Sharonna P. “But what a show is playing at the Laboratory Theatre right now. Agnes of God took my breath away.”

“The audience gasped as each new piece of the gripping puzzle was dropped on us,” adds Sanibel resident Sid Simon. “The plot revolves around a new born baby, with its umbilical cord around its neck, who’s found dead in a wastebasket in Sister Agnes’ room. The cast was superb, and met every challenge this fine play demanded.”

Aggie 04“This presentation was just excellent, cast was good – almost sounded spontaneous,” agrees Norma D. “I enjoyed Jennifer and Lori. Joann was so outstanding as that nun I used to be afraid of daily. The sets were simple, never taking from the play. And the incense wafting through was a big hit to remind us where we were. Thank you for a wonderful production. Kudos to the producer and staff.”

See for yourself what the chatter is all about. The remaining play dates, times and ticket information is provided above

______________________________________________________________________

 

‘Agnes of God’ playwright John Pielmeier has enjoyed long and storied career (01-13-15)

Pielmeier 02Playing now through January 24 at the Laboratory Theater of Florida is John Pielmeier’s Agnes of God. While perhaps his best known play, Pielmeier has a long and storied career as a playwright.

His other plays include Voices in the Dark, produced on Broadway and winner of the 1999 Edgar Award for Best Play (published by Broadway Play Publishing); Haunted Lives, a collection of one-acts published by Dramatists Play Service; Courage, a one-man show about J.M. Barrie, produced at the Lambs’ Theatre  off-Broadway, published by Playscripts, Inc. and filmed for public television (performed by the author); The Boys of Winter, Pielmeier 01produced on Broadway and published by Playscripts, Inc.; Sleight of Hand, produced on Broadway; Jass, presented at the O’Neill Playwrights’ Conference and workshopped at the New Harmony Project; Impassioned Embraces, a collection of short plays and monologues, published by Dramatists Play Service; Steeplechase the Funny Place, a musical (with music and lyrics by Matty Selman) workshopped at the New Harmony Project; Young Rube, a musical (also with Mr. Selman), workshopped at the Pielmeier 03Gathering at Bigfork in Bigfork, Montana and first produced at the Repertory Theatre of Saint Louis; Willi, a one-man show based on the speeches of mountaineer Willi Unsoeld, which premiered (and was performed by the author) at A Contemporary Theatre in Seattle (breaking box office records); The Classics Professor, workshopped at The Gathering at Bigfork and at CAP21, New York City Aggie 01(and performed by the author); and Slow Dance with a Hot Pickup, a musical with Mr. Selman workshopped at the New Harmony Project, Sarasota Shakespeare Festival, and the Musical Workshop at Indiana University, and which premiered at The Barnstormers Theatre in Tamworth, New Hampshire in 2007, winning 4 New Hampshire Theatre Awards, including Best Production of a Musical and Best New Play.

Pielmeier has been a writer-in-residence at the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, Ossabaw Island, The Gathering at Bigfork, and the New Harmony Project, and has received alumni Aggie 02awards from both his Alma Maters. In 2003 he was inducted into the Blair County, Pennsylvania Arts Hall of Fame. His latest play, Madonna and Child, was read at the 2007 New Harmony Conference, where he was in residence. He served as the Keynote Speaker for the Harriet Lake Festival of New Plays in Orlando, Florida in February 2008.

John has also written a number of made-for-television movies and mini-series, including Choices of the Heart, a television movie he wrote about the slain American missionaries in El Salvador, and a project for which he received a Christopher Award, the Humanitas Award, a Aggie 03Writers Guild of America nomination for Best Teleplay, and an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. Other TV movies include Sins of the Father (which broke viewer records when it was first aired on FX; also nominated for the Humanitas Award and a Writers Guild of America Award); Happy Face Murders (which broke viewer records when it was first aired on Showtime); The Stranger Within; The Last P.O.W.: The Bobby Garwood Story; The Shell Seekers; Through the Eyes of a Killer; Reunion (co-written with Ron Bass); Submerged (co-writer; received a special Aggie 05screening at the White House); Original Sins (which he also co-produced); a miniseries adaptation of Dominick Dunne’s An Inconvenient Woman; Dodson’s Journey; Forbidden Territory (National Geographic’s premiere television film on Stanley’s search for Livingstone); We Are Circus, an episode of Showtime’s series on the rescue efforts of Righteous Gentiles during the Holocaust; a new adaptation of Flowers for Aggie 04Algernon; Living with the Dead, a miniseries based on James van Praagh’s life and experiences; the critically acclaimed Hitler: The Rise of Evil (Emmy nomination, Best Miniseries), The Capture of the Green River Killer, a miniseries which broke viewership records by 250% when it aired on Lifetime Movie Network and was named by Variety as one of the Top Television Events of nun12008; an adaptation of Kim Edwards’ The Memory Keeper’s Daughter (WGA nomination for Best Adapted Teleplay) which became the most-watched Lifetime movie in thirteen years when it aired in April, 2008 and received an Emmy nomination for Best Television Movie; and a new adaptation of Sybil. He also wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation of Agnes of God (Writers Guild nomination for Best Screen Adaptation) and co-wrote the narration for National Geographic’s IMAX film Mysteries of Egypt.

His adaptation of Gifted Hands, the inspiring autobiography of Doctor Ben Carson, was nominated for Aggie 06the Humanitas Prize and for a Critics Choice Award, was named one of the top ten movies of the year by Movieguide, and won three Image Awards (for Outstanding Actor, Actress, and TV movie) and the prestigious Camie Award. His adaptations of two Patricia Cornwell mysteries, At Risk and The Front, aired on Lifetime in April 2010, and his adaptation of The Pillars of the Earth, an eight-hour series based on Ken Follett’s best-selling novel and a piece he is particularly proud of, aired throughout the world beginning in July, 2010. It received three Golden Globe nominations, garnered him his fifth nomination for a Writers Guild Award, won a Gemini nun2Award, a Romy Award, and an Emmy nomination for Best Miniseries.

A proud member of the Dramatists Guild and the Writers Guild of America East, as well as Actors’ Equity and SAG-AFTRA, and an alumnus of New Dramatists, Mr. Pielmeier has been a guest lecturer at Carnegie Mellon University, Penn State, and the University of Vermont. His keynote address at the 2008 Harriet Lake Festival of New Plays in Orlando, “Writing What Matters,” was reprinted by The Dramatists Guild magazine. He is married to poet/playwright Irene O’Garden and resides in Garrison, New York.

_______________________________________________________________

 

Playwright John Pielmeier provides the backstory for ‘Agnes of God’ (01-12-15)

Pielmeier 01Playing now through January 24 at the Laboratory Theater of Florida is John Pielmeier’s Agnes of God. In the following paragraphs, Pielmeier shares the story of his inspiration for the play, which enjoyed a 17 month run on Broadway.

In 1977, Pielmeier got an acting job at the Eugene O’Neill Playwrights’ Conference. He was so swept away by the work done there that he vowed to return, not as an actor, but as a playwright. “For a good while I had been looking for an idea upon which to hang a play about questions of faith – Pielmeier 03looking, essentially, for a plot clothesline,” Pielmeier recounts. “About a year earlier I had seen a headline in the Post or the News shouting ‘Nun Kills Baby!’ I didn’t read the actual story, but something like nine months later I woke up in the middle of the night with an ‘Aha!’ moment. The title was obvious – a bad liturgical pun – and the cast was kept to a minimum because I felt small, Pielmeier 02simple plays worked best at the O’Neill.”

At first, Pielmeier conceived of the psychiatrist as a man, but he wanted to challenge himself to write full, rich women’s roles. So the psychiatrist became a woman, and when he completed the script, he immediately submitted the play to the O’Neill, as well as to Jon Jory at Actors Theatre of Louisville, where he had worked a lot as an actor.

Pielmeier did not wait around for the phone to ring. Instead, he departed Manhattan for Florida to visit his sister. So he wasn’t home when the telegram arrived telling him that the O’Neill had Aggie 05accepted Agnes for its 1979 Conference. When his wife called with the news, John knew “at that moment that my life had changed.”

The play was workshopped at the O’Neill. Dianne Weist played the title role. In the meantime, Jon Jory accepted the play for Actors Theatre’s 1980 Humana Festival, where it premiered professionally. “As a result of that production, the play received something like six regional Aggie 02productions the following year, although no New York producers saw it in Louisville.” However, a regional production at Center Stage in Baltimore was attended by a number of producers, and Pielmeier was put in the enviable position of having to choose between six offers for a New York production.

“I chose correctly, and Ken Waissman produced the play, opening it at the Music Box Theatre on March 31, 1982. It received rather mixed reviews (I have never been a darling of the critics, to put it mildly) but word-of-mouth spread, and once Amanda Plummer won a Tony for her performance, its Aggie 03future was assured.”

In the Lab Theater production, Lori Riti plays Dr. Martha Livingstone, Joann Haley is Mother Superior Miriam Ruth and Jennifer Koch plays Agnes, the young nun accused of murdering the infant she gave birth to in the cloistered convent over which Sister Miriam presides. To read this author’s review of the play, just keep reading. And for the days and times of the remaining performances and ticket information, please refer to the top of this page.

________________________________________________________________

 

Lab Theater’s ‘Agnes of God’ enigmatic, powerful psychodrama characterized by intense, powerful performances (01-10-15)

Aggie 03”So why did you call the police?” Dr. Martha Livingstone demands of Mother Superior Miriam Ruth. “Why didn’t you just place the baby’s body in the incinerator?” And lurking within these two simple questions lies the unfathomable enigma that is not only the Mother Superior, but Agnes of God itself.

As the questions belie, a newborn has been murdered. Found in a waste paper basket with an umbilical cord wrapped around its neck, the child’s mother, Sister Agnes, stands accused of the infanticide. Now court-appointed psychiatrist Dr. Martha Livingstone must determine if the Aggie 02novice nun barely out of her teens possesses the mental capacity to stand trial, but to do that, she must enlist the cooperation, if not complicity, of Mother Superior Miriam Ruth, who has every reason to protect Sister Agnes from Livingstone’s relentless investigation.

Without giving away too much, Mother Miriam would like nothing more than for the baby to be the product of another immaculate conception because if a man sired the child, Miriam has some ‘splainin’ to do. Only one man ever visits the convent and that’s a priest with a reputed drinking problem who serves as the nuns’ confessor. She is definitely Aggie 01in need of a miracle, but the implications of that miracle are horrifying. If God indeed conceived the child in Sister Agnes’ womb, then why did he in his omnipotence allow her to kill it? The facile answer, of course, is that God also gave Sister Agnes free will, so she was free to kill the child if though it is the son or daughter of God. But then again, why did God create a baby that he knew Sister Agnes was just going to turn around and kill anyway?

Theological and philosophical conundrums aside, wouldn’t it have been better for purposes of Mother Miriam’s reputation and the scandal to the convent and the Catholic Church itself Aggie 05(which, Lord knows, has enough other problems to contend with) if news of the birth and murder had never come out? And if Mother Miriam had really wanted to protect the young innocent she claims Sister Agnes to be, why didn’t she cover up the birth and the child’s ensuing murder or at least prevent Dr. Livingstone’s efforts to hypnotize the conflicted young girl? Which is precisely why the good doctor asks Mother Superior why she called Aggie 04the police when she discovered the infant in the waste paper basket.

Mother Miriam has even deeper, more personal reasons to be hostile to Dr. Livingstone’s inquiries, but she is often inexplicably cooperative, even friendly toward the woman who threatens to destroy Sister Agnes and the peace and serenity that Mother Miriam so covets in the convent to Aggie 06which she has escaped after a bitter divorce and acrimonious family life. And this places actress Joann Haley in the unenviable position of having to vacillate unevenly in her interactions with Dr. Livingstone in order to present her character as the bundle of incomprehensible contradictions that is Mother Miriam Ruth. Haley gives a strong performance and provides a stunning metaphor for the uneasy role that the Catholic Church plays between the temporal world in which its parishioners live and the spiritual realm of the Almighty.

Dr. Livingstone is no less an enigma. From a legal standpoint, she is only required to opine to the court whether in her nun2professional judgment Sister Agnes has the capacity to understand her actions and therefore stand trial for murder. Livingstone gathers enough evidence of Agnes’ mental state early on. (What this evidence is cannot be divulged in this review without giving away the ending, but suffice it to say, a real-life court-appointed psychiatrist could, and undoubtedly would have ended their inquiry nun1right then and there.) But not Dr. Livingstone, who insists on hypnotizing Sister Agnes, not once, but multiple times so that the young nun can discover the truth of what happened the night she gave birth to the child no one knew she was carrying except Mother Miriam.

While the play is titled Agnes of God, the story is told from Dr. Livingstone’s perspective, and she has a number of soliloquys through which the audience discovers her inner thought processes. Her character is meant to traverse an arc during which she grows and makes discoveries about herself and her motivations that make her a much better person in the end. It’s not entirely clear that the doctor achieves this laudable end which could be a flaw in the scriptwriting or in Lori Riti’s portrayal. One would expect a chain-smoking, hardboiled court-appointed psychiatrist in a high-profile case such as this to be cynical, suspicious, conniving, contriving and manipulative, playing Mother Miriam and Sister Agnes to satisfy her own ego in her push to expose the Church and this child-woman as a schizophrenic murderess. But this psych seems incredulously predisposed to find a reason to exonerate her subject even after she learns enough of Agnes’ past to formulate a cogent explanation for what happened that night, and why. That aside, Riti turns in one powerful scene after another which will only enhance her reputation of one of the more powerful local actors performing here in Southwest Florida.

And then there is the diminutive Jennifer Koch who plays Sister Agnes. There is nothing small about her mega-ton talent which is deserving of the Shubert on Broadway. On opening night, Kock routinely stole scenes from Riti and Haley with nothing more than the look in her eyes or the expression on her starched-white-wimpled framed face. But it was her instantaneous mercurial transitions into the painfully conflicted child who had suffered the untold horrors that gave rise to her actions now and in the immediate past that kept the audience on the edge of their seats from the middle of the first act to the end of the play.

There is much to say about Agnes, but unfortunately not in a review for folks trying to decide whether or not to devote and evening and a few dollars to go out and see psycho-drama. If you are one of those people who relish the chance to decipher why people do the things that they do, this is the play for you. And if you just someone who appreciates complex, contradictory characters and strong, impressive acting, this is a play you might actually want to see more than once. It will definitely stay with you more than a few hours. Nay, it’s the type of performance that you will be playing over and over in your mind for days, perhaps weeks to come. But if you are looking for the penultimate reason to take in Agnes of God, it’s Jennifer Koch. This young actress is not likely to grace Southwest Florida stages for very long. With talent like hers, she is destined for far bigger stages than our and far more impressive roles in what should be a long and accomplished career.

_________________________________________________________

 

Agnes of God opens tonight at Laboratory Theater of Florida (01-09-15)

nun2Recalling the moving film starring Jane Fonda, Anne Bancroft, and Meg Tilly, Lab Theater’s stage version of Agnes of God opens tonight at 8 p.m. and stars powerful local actor Lori Riti as the psychiatrist, one of Southwest Florida’s favorite leading ladies Joann Haley as Mother Superior, and lovely newcomer Jennifer Koch as young Agnes.

nun1Lori Riti has acted in a variety of shows since her arrival in Southwest Florida, including Kate in Kiss Me Kate, Elaine in Arsenic & Old Lace, the “niece” in The Sunshine Boys, Smitty in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Ms. Casewell in Mousetrap, and Mrs. Smith in Meet Me in St. Louis. For Lab Theater, Lori has appeared in The Laramie Project, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, and opposite Josh Russo as Mary Abigail Carstairs-Sweetbuckle in The Gay Agenda, which was one of the plays subsumed within this summer’s smash hit, Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays.

Joann Haley as LindaJoann Haley garnered favorable reviews and accolades for her portrayal of  Linda Loman in last season’s Death of a Salesman. Joann has also appeared on the Lab Theater stage as Mary in Five Kinds of Silence. Joann has also played Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Gertrude in Hamlet, and Poncia in The House of Bernarda Alba. She has also performed with Theatre Conspiracy, Cultural Park Theatre, the former Off-Beach Players and the Florida Repertory Theatre.

Local theater buffs may recall Jennifer Koch as 17-year-old Ellie in last March’s production of The Whale by Theatre Conspiracy.

The play is directed by Artistic Director Annette Trossbach.

Doors open at 7:15 p.m. See above for other dates, times, location and ticket information.

_____________________________________________________________

 

Success of ‘Agnes’ hinges on talents of Lori Riti, Jennifer Koch and Joann Haley to pull of psychodrama (12-27-14)

nun2Agnes of God opens at Lab Theater January 9. It features just three characters, all women, and the success of the show hinges in large measure on their individual and collective ability to handle action and dialogue that vacillates between truly riveting psychodrama and esoteric moralistic diatribes.

Lori Riti plays Dr. Martha Livingstone, a nun1psychiatrist who has been appointed by the local criminal court to determine the competency of a novice nun barely out of her teens to stand trial for the murder of the newborn child she has been secretly carrying. While Livingstone is determined to uncover the truth about the nun’s claim to have no memory of either her pregnancy or the child’s death, the good doctor reveals some personal issues during the course of the play that make her intensely distrustful of the Catholic faith. Riti’s challenge in playing this character will be to evince an emotionally disturbing emotional arc that convincingly shines a spotlight on the Gay Marriage Plays 01tension that has existed since the time of Galileo between science and religion, empiricism and matters of faith.

Riti should be up for the challenge. Lori has acted in a variety of shows since her arrival in Southwest Florida, including Kate in Kiss Me Kate, Elaine in Arsenic & Old Lace, the “niece” in The Sunshine Gay Marriage Plays 02Boys, Smitty in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Ms. Casewell in Mousetrap, and Mrs. Smith in Meet Me in St. Louis. For Lab Theater, Lori has appeared in The Laramie Project, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, and opposite Josh Russo as Mary Abigail Carstairs-Sweetbuckle in The Gay Agenda, which was one of the plays subsumed within this summer’s smash hit, Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays (pictured in photos 3 and 4).

Whale 1The nun accused of infanticide, Sister Agnes, is played by Jennifer Koch, who local theater-goers will remember as 17-year-old Ellie in last March’s production of The Whale by Theatre Conspiracy (photo to the right). Agnes denies the very existence of the child, claiming that the police made the whole story up. She also claims that she sees and speaks to spirits, both good and evil, and has experienced inexplicable physical phenomena. Joann Haley as LindaHence, Koch’s challenge in reprising this role will be not only to convince Dr. Livingstone but the audience that she truly and sincerely has no recollection of either the pregnancy or the child’s murder.

Throughout her appointments with Dr. Livingstone, Agnes is fiercely protected by Mother Miriam Ruth, who views Agnes as a rare innocent and maintains that her connection to God something akin to a miracle. From this framework, Mother Ruth subverts the doctor’s expectations even while demanding that she consider the possibility of nonscientific explanations. The task of this acting role falls to Joann Haley, who garnered favorable reviews and plaudits as Linda Loman in last season’s Death of a Salesman (pictured right). Joann has also appeared on the Lab Theater stage as Mary in Five Kinds of Silence. Joann has Joann Haley as Linda 2also played Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Gertrude in Hamlet, and Poncia in The House of Bernarda Alba. She has also performed with Theatre Conspiracy, Cultural Park Theatre, the former Off-Beach Players and the Florida Repertory Theatre.

“Agnes of God is not a perfect play, but it is an interesting one with some great moments,” wrote Rochester City News theater critic Eric Rezsnyak in an April 25, 2014 review. “The nature of the subject matter means that there cannot be any real answers in the play, just discussions. Some of them are well reasoned, others skew toward showmanship for the sake of showmanship. But when the characters are speaking to one another sincerely, wrestling with the nature of faith in a modern world, it is captivating. That is due in large part to the strength of the acting and the tragic scenario that inspired the work.”

Luckily director Annette Trossbach has just the right cast to make Lab Theater’s production of Agnes a huge success.

_____________________________________________________________________________

 

Lab Theater bringing philosophical drama ‘Agnes of God’ to River District in January (12-20-14)

nun2When it was first performed, Agnes of God was described as a philosophical drama. The plot centers around three women, a novice nun barely out of her teens who has been accused of murdering the child she has given birth to after concealing her pregnancy for nine months, her protective Mother Superior and Dr. Martha Livingstone, the court-appointed psychiatrist who nun1has been called upon to evaluate whether Agnes is competent to stand trial after Agnes claims she has no memory of either the birth or the newborn’s death. Livingstone is determined to uncover “the truth of the matter hidden behind Agnes’s veiled and cloistered mind,” wrote New York Times theater critic Leah D. Frank in a 1984 review. “A psychological war ensues between Dr. Livingstone and Mother Miriam Ruth over Agnes’s mental and spiritual health, and the play becomes a collection of contrasts between science and religion, between the temporal and spiritual, and between facts and faith.”

Annette AAgnes seems to have a special relationship to God. She radiates peace and joy, but is a deeply troubled young woman. As the story skillfully unravels, we discover that Livingstone and the Mother Superior are both conflicted about what it means to be a believer today. And we learn how unique and compelling Agnes truly is.

AnnetteIn his 2004 autobiography, This Terrible Business Has Been Good to Me,  the film’s director, Norman Jewison, describes the story of Agnes of God as “the struggle between Freudian logic and Catholic faith. The film would test our ability to believe in miracles.” Jewison was already familiar with the play before it hit Broadway. He thought it was “brilliant” and that writer John Peilmeier was “one of the really talented young playwrights in New York.”

Rehearsal 11 March 22The New York Daily News agreed, calling the 1982 stage play a “riveting, powerful, electrifying drama.  “The script is electrifying and we are thrilled to have found three actors who are committed to this amazing and intense project,” adds Lab Theater founder Annette Trossbach. “As timely as it was when it premiered, Agnes of God crackles with tension and is full of heart.”

A gripping mystery, Agnes of God will keep viewers riveted and resonate long after the film is over. For Norman Jewison, the film gave him a chance to explore some deeply personal issues. “I think most people, Laboratory Theater Exterior 2 (3)regardless of their religion, regardless of logic, want to believe in something outside of their everyday lives. Outside of themselves,” he says in his autobiography. “Agnes of God gave me the opportunity to explore that timeless human conflict between believing what we can see and believing what we can’t see or experience. It seemed to me then, as it does now, that the world is in dire need of angels.”

Trossbach also directs the Lab Theater production (see below), with sound by Mitch Haley, music by Nancy Fueyo, set design by Ken Bryant, dramatic lighting by Ron Kelly, special effects by Nykkie Rizley, and costumes by Diana Waldier. See above for dates, times and ticket information

___________________________________________________________________________

 

Lab Theater founder and artistic director Annette Trossbach to direct ‘Agnes of God’ (11-17-14)

Annette AComing to the Lab Theater in January is John Pielmeier’s Agnes of God, and the production will be directed by Annette Trossbach, founder and artistic director of the Laboratory Theater of Florida and the Gulf Coast Shakespeare Festival. Classically trained at the innovative East 15 Drama School in London, U.K., Annette has worked with Margaret Walker (Oh What a Lovely War), Annetteinternational combat choreographer Mike Loades, director Terry Johnson, Alasdair Ramsey and actor Tony Scannell. She directed in England and Germany before moving to the United States. She is a 2010 recipient of the Gulfshore Business 40 Under 40 Award and a two-time Zelda Fichandler Award nominee. Last season she directed Miss Witherspoon and Glengarry Glen Ross.

She starred this season in My Brilliant Divorce, a one-woman show in which she plays 20 separate My Brilliant Divorce 04characters. Among some of the other favorite roles she has played are Sylvie in Intimate Exchanges, Yelena in The Wood Demon, and Netta in Cavalcade. Annette has been teaching theater and acting skills for more than 20 years and is teaching a class in physical character creation for the theater this season. At Laboratory Theater of Florida, she and her company continue the East 15 focus of teaching core theatrical skills such as character development, stagecraft, combat, textual analysis, voice and physicality to new actors of all ages.

She thanks Lab Theater members, the City of Fort Myers, her family and her amazing Board of Directors for their continued support of the theater’s mission to both educate and entertain.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *