Direction : Kaizaad Kotwal and Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal
Writer : John Pielmeier
Cast : Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal, Anahita Uberoi, Avanti Nagral and Mona Ambegaonkar

AGNES OF GOD Play Review

Deepa Punjani

No upcoming shows.

The Church for all its well-meaning piety has had its fair share of scandals, especially sex scandals. It has taken measures against them and has grudgingly and sometimes even willingly faced inquiry. The sins nevertheless happen. The intervening journey between man and his God is more complex and even ugly than we are likely to accept. John Pielmeier's award-winning play AGNES OF GOD (1982) was bound to have raised the hackles of the clergy. When Poor-Box Productions opened the play in Mumbai, the company faced a backlash from the Catholic Church in India, but eventually the road cleared. The production, directed by Kaizaad Kotwal, was selected among the ten finalists to qualify for the META (Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards) this year.

The production, apart from some overdone spotlights, delivers a decent performance helmed by the three women characters - the young novice nun, Agnes (Avanti Nagral), Mother Superior (Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal) and the court-appointed psychiatrist (Anhaita Uberoi). It lacks a definitive character but it adequately conveys the story of the young nun who justifies her pregnancy as immaculate conception. Agnes, we discover, is a victim as much of her abusive upbringing, as of the religious vocation she finds herself in. Hers is a choice less choice, finding solace in song and music as she combats her inner demons. The psychiatrist does her best to help the deeply troubled nun, and recalls her own younger's sister fateful engagement with the church.

The older nun who is Agnes' guardian is torn between her faith and her desire to help Agnes. She thwarts the psychiatrist's attempts but eventually gives in. Mother Superior is complicit to an extent but in her deepest heart wants to protect Agnes. She feels that Agnes' battered soul cannot withstand the world outside the convent. The psychiatrist is justifiably appalled as she continues to uncover the girl's past life. Uberoi has a strong presence; determined yet patient, and angry yet calm. Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal presents her with a suitable counterpoint both in terms of her appearance and her manner. In between them, is the young Avanti Nagral with her beautiful voice. The eighteen-year old professional singer's exposure to church music holds her in good stead. It is her mellifluous singing voice that resonates and somewhat redeems the sombre, one-dimensional mood of the overall performance otherwise.

Fali Unwalla's majestic panels depicting the life of Christ raise the tenor of the play notches high. They are an ironic and tragic reminder of beauty that exists with the cruelty - some of it obvious, some of it unspoken. The 'Father's' sins lie buried. The Church has been despoiled but the grandeur of the backdrop awes us. Pielmeier is critical of the church, but allows Mother Superior's faith to have as much passion as the psychiatrist's avowed atheism. Ultimately neither dogma nor reason, come to Agnes' help. When the truth is out, there is nothing to be done. It is not a happy end because the singing stops. Gone is Agnes' sweet voice that carried the promise of hope and perhaps that elusive ladder to God in heaven.

Deepa Punjani is the Editor of this website.

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