Questions & Answers, from Director Kevin Purcell
Q: How did the playwright, John Pielmeier, create Agnes of God?
A: THE BACKSTORY: Here he is telling the story in his own words.
“I had been writing for several years, not taking it seriously and supporting myself by my acting work, when I got an acting job at the 1977 Eugene O’Neill Playwrights’ Conference. I was so swept away by the work done there that I returned to New York City determined to go back to the O’Neill as a playwright. I wrote a play which made the semi-finals but not the final cut for the summer of ’78, and during that summer I did most of the initial work on Agnes. For a good while I had been looking for an idea upon which to hang a play about questions of faith – looking, essentially, for a plot clothesline. About a year earlier I had seen a headline in the Post or the News shouting “Nun Kills Baby!” I didn’t read the actual story, but something like nine months later I woke up in the middle of the night with an “Aha!” moment. The title was obvious – a bad liturgical pun – and the cast was kept to a minimum because I felt small, simple plays worked best at the O’Neill. I wanted to challenge myself to write full, rich women’s roles, and so the psychiatrist, who at first thought was a man, became a woman. I submitted the play to the O’Neill, as well as to Jon Jory at Actors Theatre of Louisville, where I had worked a lot as an actor.
On May 1, 1979, I got a call from my wife while I was visiting my sister in Florida – I had received a telegram informing me that my play had been accepted for the 1979 O’Neill Conference. At that moment I knew my life had changed. The play was workshopped at the O’Neill (Dianne Weist played the title role) and subsequently received an amateur production in Kingston, Jamaica, a production I went to see a week after my father passed away in October. Jon Jory, in the meantime, accepted the play for the 1980 Humana Festival, where it premiered professionally. As a result of that production, the play received something like six regional productions the following year, although no New York producers saw it in Louisville.
The second of these regional productions, at Center Stage in Baltimore, was attended by many producers, and I was put in the enviable position of having to choose between six offers for a New York production. I chose correctly, and Ken Waissman produced the play, opening it at the Music Box Theatre on March 31, 1982. It received rather mixed reviews (I have never been a darling of the critics, to put it mildly) but word-of-mouth spread, and once Amanda Plummer won a Tony for her performance, its future was assured.” from https://johnpielmeier.com/theater/plays/agnes-of-god/
Q: In addition to Tony award winning Amanda Plummer, who else was in the original Broadway cast?
A: Geraldine Page, who in 1986 won an Academy Award for the film Trip to Bountiful, played Mother Miriam Ruth, and Elizabeth Ashley.
Q: What about Stage Company’s production?
A: Thirty years ago, Kevin Purcell directed this play in Springfield, Illinois. Kevin said “audiences loved this play so much” and he is very excited to bring the play to our audiences. He has assembled a very talented group of actors.
Elyse Pineau as Mother Miriam. Elyse is Professor Emeritus of Performance Studies at SIU and has been acting and directing for many years. She was recently seen in Vanya on the Plains at the Kleinau Theater. Diane Taveau plays the role of Dr Livingstone, the psychiatrist assigned to interview Agnes and uncover the truth about her fitness and culpability. Diane has been acting, professionally and locally. She recently directed Twelve Angry Men at JALC.
And in the title role of Agnes the young nun, Katelyn Wittenborn makes her stage company debut. Katelyn is a student at John A. Logan College.