Review: Agnes of God (Hubris Productions)

  
  

What is truth and what is a miracle?

  
  

Sara Pavlak, Lorraine Freund, Barbara Roeder Harris - Hubris Productions' Agnes of God

  
Hubris Productions presents
   
Agnes of God
  
Written by John Pielmeir
Directed by Jacob Christopher Green
at Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through April 16  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

The human mind is a miraculous and wondrous thing. In the play Agnes of God, not only is an atheist asked to suspend logic, she’s also asked to question the nature of miracles in modern times. Hubris Productions presents a luminous and beautifully acted production directed by Jacob Christopher Green. The moment I sat down and looked at the set, I was transported back to the convent adjacent to my grammar school. It was stark and yet serene in its simplicity, just like the OSP convent of my childhood. There is a desk that serves as a place of authority for both Mother Miriam Ruth and Dr. Livingstone. Otherwise, it’s the ascetic and well-scrubbed world of a religious order.

Barbara Roeder Harris, as psychiatrist Dr. Livingstone, shines in the role of someone who is appointed to deem whether a horrific act was insanity or murder. The emotional range required of the Livingstone character would be Grand Guignol performance in the hands of a lesser actress, but Harris’ Livingstone is a perfect balance of restraint and fierce protector, determined to discover the truth even at the risk of her own beliefs.

Lorraine Freund (Mother Miriam Ruth) inhabits the habit. I was stunned at how much she recalled my second grade teacher, Sister Vienny. Here, Mother Miriam Ruth is a tightly wound character who unravels with surprising profanity and knowledge of the real world outside the cloistered convent. Freund plays Mother Miriam with a sly sense of humor, a steel-trap mind, and a warped protectiveness. Mother Miriam chose the world of contemplative religious life after a perceived failing at the art of being a wife and mother who raised two angry atheists. The question lingers – did Mother Miriam need a miracle to renew her faith, or does she manipulate a mentally ill girl to cover a deep lack of faith?  Freund is ramrod straight, shielded by an otherworldly calm. She is chillingly wonderful and the nun of my nightmares.

Sara Pavlak (Agnes) literally has the face of an angel. She is heart-wrenching as a naïve and abused girl who has never seen the outside world. Agnes would possibly be diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome as well as Disassociative Identity Disorder in these modern times of needing a label for everything. This Agnes is buried in her trauma and possibly a miraculous anomaly that cannot be explained. The stigmata that bursts from her hands is a shock that draws audible gasps from the audience. Ms. Pavlak so deeply inhabits the pure novitiate that the viscera of blood on her gleaming white habit is almost obscene. One cannot imagine this innocent waif being invaded by the carnality of intercourse but when she is in the throes of hypnosis-induced orgasm there is a raw sensuality that is at once powerful and transcendent.

These three actresses play seamlessly off of each other. The timing and movement is very important in such a stark production. There is not much room for missteps and they make none.

Jacob Christopher Green’s direction is seamless and well modulated. This is a drama that has the potential to go way over the top, and agonizing to watch (as in the case of the 1985 film featuring Jane Fonda, Anne Bancroft, and Meg Tilly). Playwright John Pielmeir’s script is made for the subtleties of the stage and for understated performances that explode and knock you back in your seat. Brava ladies, Bravo Mr. Green, and kudos to Hubris Productions.

   
  
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

Agnes of God runs through April 16th, with performances Saturdays at 8:00pm and Sundays at 3:00pm. Performances are at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln. Tickets are $25, and can be bought online or by calling 773-404-7336.

The 2011 season of Hubris Productions will donate portions of their proceeds to Humboldt Park Social Services. It is the Hubris mission statement that they provide entertainment, inspiration, education, and charitable giving. It is a worthy cause and definitely worth your time in the theater.

  
  

Review: Circle Mirror Transformation (Victory Gardens)

 
 

Changing others for good, sometimes forever

  
  

Steve Key, Joseph D. Lauck, Rae Gray, Lori Myers, and Carmen Roman in a scene from Victory Garden's 'Circle Mirror Transformation'.

  
Victory Gardens Theater presents
   
Circle Mirror Transformation
  
Written by Annie Baker
Directed by Dexter Bullard
Richard Christiansen Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln (map)
through April 17  |  tickets: $35-$50  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Slow and steady wins the race, so they say. In less than two hours, Annie Baker’s justly praised drama marches to its own different drummer as it covers a fairly uneventful six weeks in the course of a community-theater adult class for “Creative Drama” in the small town of Shirley, Vermont. (Don’t worry—This gentle character drama has none of the cruelty of Waiting for Guffman.) Dexter Bullard’s local premiere explains why New York went a bit crazy over this minimalist masterwork, where less is so much more than more ever was.

Carmen Roman looks on as 2 of her students go through an acting exercise in Victory Garden's 'Circle Mirror Transformation'.“Creative” is the operative word, because the four students and one teacher aren’t ramping up to a real rehearsal of an actual play, let alone a finished production. Teacher Marty (Carmen Roman,as a mentor with miseries) leads the hopeful thespians in a series of touchy-feely theater games and emotive exercises. These build a lot more trust and self-esteem than they could ever nurture trained acting that could actually be used to earn a living. (They resemble the Viola Spolin-style Method-acting tricks spoofed in the song “Nothing” from A Chorus Line.)

But the fact that Marty puts technique far above content perfectly suits this still-waters-run-deep comedy. The “transformation” in the title refers to the barely perceptible ways in which people change each other for good and sometimes forever. Baker doesn’t bother to explain how or why they do it. Much is left unspoken but not unfelt, even when the action seems one protracted non sequitur.

Besides Roman’s conflicted instructor, we meet Lauren (a concentrated Rae Gray), a seemingly surly, very complicated 16-year-old who really does want to act and craves a chance to be someone other than a complicated teenager who really does want to act. She bonds with her opposite, 55-year-old James (Joseph D. Lauck, hiding far more than he shows, especially about his relationship with Marty): James has his own domestic backstory which he wants to escape from, not draw upon as the games require. Lori Myers energizes Theresa, the new girl in town, who finds herself drawn to now-available Schultz (Steve Key), an estranged husband who’s shy and a tad too sensitive even for this situation.

Lori Myers and Carmen Roman in 'Circle Mirror Transformation' at Victory Gardens Biograph Theatre in ChicagoThe games they “play” yield a series of “Truth or Consequences” moments of truth: In one devastating moment, they read each other’s darkest secrets: We can only guess whose they really are. What’s most amazing over the course of the play is the occasional “reenactments” in which one student plays another: From the depth and detail of the portrayals you realize just how much quality time they’ve spent together.

The fact that not much happens here is exactly the point – and for many theatergoers that, alas, may be exactly the problem. Nothing epic sparks the story. But Baker has created a theatrical complement to real life. Their assorted epiphanies, turning points and kinetic breakthroughs are few and far between, especially in a span as short as six weeks. Just because the life-changing stuff doesn’t happen often or as expected doesn’t mean that what’s left doesn’t deserve the respect of a dramatic depiction. Circle Mirror Transformation is very respect-full.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

Steve Key, Joseph D. Lauck, Rae Gray, Lori Myers, and Carmen Roman in a scene from Victory Garden's 'Circle Mirror Transformation'.

Circle Mirror Transformation continues thru April 17th at Victory Gardens Biograph Theatre, 2433 N. Lincoln (map), with performance Tues-Saturday: 8pm, Saturday matinee: 4pm, Sunday matinee: 2pm, and Wednesday matinee at 2pm.  Tickets are $35-$50 and can be purchased online or by calling 773-871-3000.

  
  

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