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Nuns and infanticide; science and faith

Photo by Jay Poole

What's worse than a dead baby in a trashcan?

A dead baby in a nun's trashcan.

Agnes of God, authored by John Pielmeier, is another ace in the hand of the Mills Players, the campus' drama company. It is a chilling play, of a psychiatrist with a darkened past, a convent's mother superior with a present plagued by crises of faith and a young nun who may have no future; it is a two-hour trip through the deepest conflicts between science and faith.

Agnes, a young nun played by junior Kathryn Peck, comes off as nothing less than holy. Her thoughts and observations are those reflective of a mind untouched by the world. Brought to the convent at a young age, Agnes has immersed herself in God, and has the voice of an angel, yet always sings alone.

"Agnes is different… special, gifted, blessed," remarks Mother Miriam, played by senior Sara Laufer. Her character is fiercely protective of Agnes, who has the voice of something ethereal and otherworldly – a voice that heals Miriam daily.

Her secret pregnancy and subsequent birth and infanticide bring scandal to the convent, and the state sends in psychiatrist Dr. Martha Livingstone, played by resuming sophomore Kat Weller-Fahy, to determine the mental capacity of Agnes. She and Mother Miriam are immediately at odds, Miriam saying indignantly to her, "I don't approve of you," referring to psychiatrists at large.

Miriam is the first interrogated by Livingstone about Agnes' mystery conception and pregnancy – "How did she hide it from the other nuns?" asked Livingstone. "She could have hidden a machine gun in here if she wanted to," retorted Miriam as she gestured to her habit in one of many much-needed moments of levity punctuating an otherwise heavy play.

Agnes is nearly impossible for Livingstone to question because of her complete lack of context for subjects like sex. She's lived in the shelter of her home, and then within the walls of the convent, but do not confuse shelter with safety – she is a girl who has endured the unimaginable.

The play is very much like a detective novel; for each question answered, five more unfold. The answers to the integral questions of the play are locked inside the characters; Agnes' tortured screams make it difficult for audience members not to look away, Miriam's internal dilemmas make it hard to tell who's telling the truth, Livingstone's monologues bring up questions, like the difference between hysteria and miracles.

Winifred Wallace, the play's director and the last remaining dramatic arts major after the department was cut in 2004, expressed her love for the play and her admiration for her cast, "I needed to do this play … I first saw it when I was 15 and Agnes' character got under my skin. Because it's a small cast… if you get the right people together, you can get a really good dynamic. This was the best cast – I don't think it would have worked any other way. Something with the three actresses just clicked."

Provost Mary Anne Milford praised the professionalism of the play and the expertise of the director, "It was so perfectly cast – Winnie has done an excellent job"

Weller-Fahy also remarks about Wallace's professionalism, "Winnie brings out the motivations of the characters. Once you have the characters, the lines make sense."

Has playing these complex characters changed the cast? "It's a new level of consciousness that I haven't dealt with before," comments Peck. "It's given me a whole new perspective on what the relationship between faith and science can be."

General Stage Technician Lauren Gochez-Wilson says laughingly, "This is a really interesting show to do when you're a recovering Catholic… I believe that people's belief in miracles is the real miracle."

If we are all products of our environments, then we are reflections of our past – and this is an outstanding play that shows us what happen when our present-day realities collide.