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‘Agnes of God’ tackles corruption in Church, questions of faith

| Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Notre Dame Student Players will premiere “Agnes of God,” a play seeking to reconcile faith with trauma, Thursday at 7 p.m. for their spring production in the Lab Theatre in Washington Hall.

“Agnes of God” follows the story of Dr. Livingston, a psychiatrist asked to investigate the case of Sr. Agnes, a cloistered nun alleged to have given birth and murdered her newborn.

“Dr. Livingston’s task is to determine whether or not Agnes is clinically insane,” said Savanna Morgan, the play’s director.

Corinne Wehby, who plays Livingston, said Agnes’ case brings back unwelcome memories for the psychiatrist. Though Livingston grew up Catholic, personal tragedy led her to renounce her faith long ago, Wehby said.

“[Livingston] just looks at the Church in a very, very poor light,” she said. “She sees this corruption and wants to protect other people from kind of falling victim to that, like she has in the past.”

As she digs deeper into the case, Livingston is forced to confront the very questions of faith she had long left behind, Wehby said.

“I think she, for the longest time in her life, has abandoned all ideas of the Church, of her faith,” she said. “For the first time, I think, in years, she has to start addressing these issues of faith again. … It turns into this psychological kind of war over Agnes.”

When it comes to portraying darker subjects — including sexual assault — the play strikes a balance between elements of melodrama and realism, Morgan said.

“I’ve done everything that I can to ignore … hyperbolizing the trauma,” she said. “When audiences come see the show, they’re able to say, ‘This is something that’s real, and something that the Church needs to confront,’ as opposed to dismissing it as, ‘Oh, this is just a story.’”

Wehby said “Agnes of God” does not take sides when it comes to matters of faith, but instead seeks to show how religion — or the lack thereof — can sway individuals’ thoughts and feelings.

“There’s some instances where faith is blinding some characters to different truths about the situation,” she said. “But then there’s certainly instances where for my character, her lack of faith is almost blinding her.”

Assistant director Patrick Starner said the play does not dwell on its darker themes, but rather on how they work to develop its characters.

“It’s more about not even quite the aftermath [of traumas], but just wrestling upon the implications that they have years afterward,” he said.

The audience should not expect the play to proclaim a single message or moral, but to leave them wondering, Starner added.

“The biggest thing that I hope people take away is just more like a reflection or a questioning of their own lives,” he said.

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About Mary Steurer

Mary is a senior sociology major and journalism minor from St. Louis. An aspiring religion reporter, Mary has spent the last year covering conversations about the Catholic Church sex abuse crisis at Notre Dame.

Contact Mary