Theatre Review: ‘Agnes of God’ at Brevard Little Theatre

Jennifer Memolo. Photo courtesy of Brevard Little Theatre
Jennifer Memolo. Photo courtesy of Brevard Little Theatre

Agnes of God means for us to question our faith in something as powerful yet invisible as the wind. Brevard Little Theatre’s production of the profound play by John Pielmeir is staged at the American Legion Hall through Sunday, May 7.

When an infant is discovered, strangled, in the bloody bedroom of a convent, psychiatrist Dr. Martha Livingstone (played by Sally Burnett) is appointed by the court to evaluate a young nun by the name of Agnes (Jennifer Memolo) who has been experiencing stigmata. Head nun Mother Miriam Ruth (played by Kathy Kitahata) believes Agnes’ circumstance to be immaculate conception, but seems to be hiding something. She doesn’t want Dr. Livingstone, who is fighting her own spiritual demons, to delve too deeply into the mystery.

This production desperately needed additional rehearsal time to attain its evident potential. Kitahata, a memorable actress, seems appropriately cast in a role that gave Anne Bancroft her final Oscar nomination in the 1985 film version. The role requires being protectively manipulative and could’ve been a tour de force performance for Kitahata. Disappointingly, she became increasingly reliant on tilting her head to one side and being fed a large majority of the dialogue from a non-ethereal voice in the wings.

Burnett kept referring to a legal pad, which lead to similar line-issue speculation. Also perplexing was the way her character smoked. There’s a certain art to staging cigarettes. The prop must be convincingly portrayed, going largely unnoticed. However, her soliloquies were thought-provoking and had the potential to haunt us like the play is meant to. At times, she mirrored a radical Jane Fonda, but the sketchy direction and weird up-and-down blocking muddied up the show. Any surge of reality from Burnett and Kitahata fell to the wayside.

Memolo owns this production by defying any distractions. She folds the play inward and makes the mentally disturbed Agnes out to be a traumatized child living in a world of her own. Memolo does extreme justice to Meg Tilly’s Oscar-nominated, signature role. Writhing under hypnosis, her pain feels real and severely pierces. It cannot be stated strongly enough that Memolo’s performance goes the distance. She deserves several pick-up rehearsals to ensure that the cast as a whole is as prepared by the upcoming weekend. If this is accomplished, the show could be a true winner. Last but certainly not least, the costume design by Sandi Thompson, including realistic convent garb, was a pleasant standout.

BLT’s selection of shows like Agnes of God displays immense potential. The theater’s playbills have also noticeably strengthened with more visual flare. When walking into BLT, there’s a feeling of nostalgia that’s comforting. As far as dynamic productions go, don’t count this theater out — it has been around for over 80 years for a reason.

WHAT: Agnes of God

WHERE: American Legion Hall, 55 E Jordan St., Brevard, thebrevardlittletheatre.org

WHEN: Through Sunday, May 7. Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m. $6-18

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About Kai Elijah Hamilton
Kai Elijah Hamilton was born and raised in Western North Carolina. A poet, screenwriter and playwright, he is also a published film and theater critic. Hamilton is a creative individual with a wide range of talents and interests. He is an Award Winning Actor (Tom in "The Glass Menagerie") and Director ("A Raisin In The Sun"). He previously served as Artistic Director at Hendersonville Little Theatre and has a B.A. in theater and film from Western Carolina University. In 2016, Hamilton's play "The Sleepwalker" won a spot in the first annual Asheville National 10-Minute Play Festival by NYS3. His play "Blackberry Winter" was a finalist in the elite Strawberry One-Act Festival in NYC winning Best Short Film/Video Diary. Hamilton is also the author of the full-length southern-gothic play "Dry Weather Wind" which has been called "Important. Relevant to the issues in today's time, and beautifully written..."

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