Walking into the theater, audiences are met with a nearly bare yet atmospheric set. Gray stone-like panels line the stage, giving off the illusion of an old grand cathedral. Complementing Joey Mendoza’s set is John Batalla’s lighting, adding to the eerie atmosphere. It tells you that something strange and solemn has happened, long before the show begins.
A baby was murdered in the unlikeliest of places, by the unlikeliest suspect. Dr. Martha Livingstone is sent to a convent to assess if a young nun, Sister Agnes, can stand trial for the murder of her newborn. Mother Miriam Ruth is bent on protecting Sister Agnes, insisting that the events that transpired is a lot less explainable and a lot more divine.
Playwright John Pielmeier’s work is a philosophical discourse masking as a murder mystery-cum-psychological thriller. The “who’s” and “how’s” and “why’s” of the mystery takes a backseat in favor of the God debate. What transpires for most of the show is actually a spar between reason and religion, with highly biased lieutenants on each side, and an innocent soul trapped in the crosshairs.
Fortunately, director Bart Guingona assembled a cast of strong actresses. Menchu Launchengo-Yulo is Dr. Livingstone. With a role that has her on stage for the entirety of the show, there’s a lot riding on her shoulders. She has a magnetic stage presence that only so few of today’s actresses possess. It’s a story that relies on exposition—most of it hers—and she delivers with a quiet, constrained strength and emotion. Her chemistry with Ms Amador’s Mother Superior makes the whole show a gripping power play that is thrilling, even exhilarating to watch.
Pinky Amador transforms as Mother Miriam Ruth, inhabiting her character so completely, she disappears in it. She imbibed a way of speaking akin to wise old Mother Superiors, and a physicality that believably aged her. Her previous turn as Agnes in the 1983 production informed her performance as the caring nun, portraying Mother Miriam with a fierce protectiveness and understanding of the young sister.
Equally impressive is Becca Coates as the eponymous Agnes. Holding her own against theater luminaries, she is captivating in her own right, almost ethereal. She performs Sister Agnes with an airy quality, as though she was weightless or never quite there. Her hauntingly beautiful voice injected in various moments during the show (sound designer Jethro Joaquin) added a chilling whimsy to the overall atmosphere. Even at the end when all had been revealed, and she is tortured and broken and mad, she maintains an air of incorruptible innocence that makes it clear she is a victim, not a suspect.
Complementing the strong performances were the interplay of set, lights, and sounds (Jamie Wilson serves as technical director) that made the stage a living, breathing setting for the intense events happening within it.
Mr. Guingona’s inspired direction masterfully combined the talent at his disposal to create an experience that keeps the story intriguing and the audiences engaged. An excellent showcase of caliber from performers to production, Repertory Philippines proves with “Agnes of God” that they may be 50 years old, but they’re all the stronger for it.
You can buy tickets HERE.