Agnes of God

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Agnes of God
Written byJohn Pielmeier
Mother Miriam Ruth
Dr. Martha Livingstone
Date premiered1979
Place premieredEugene O'Neill Theater Center
Original languageEnglish
SettingA convent

Agnes of God is a play by American playwright John Pielmeier which tells the story of a novice nun who gives birth and insists that the child was the result of a virgin conception. A psychiatrist and the mother superior of the convent clash during the resulting investigation. The title is a pun on the Latin phrase Agnus Dei (Lamb of God).


The stage play concerns three main characters: Martha, the psychiatrist; the Mother Superior; and Agnes, the novice. There are no other characters on stage. All three roles are considered demanding for the actors playing them.[1] Martha covers the full gamut of emotion during the play, from nurturer to antagonist, from hard nosed court psychiatrist and atheist to faith-searching healer. She is always on stage and has only three small respites from monologues or dialogue while Agnes and the Mother Superior enact flashbacks to events at the convent. The Mother Superior must expound the possibilities of miracles while recognizing the realities of today's world. Agnes is a beautiful but tormented soul whose abusive upbringing has affected her ability to think rationally.

Historical casting[edit]

Character 1979 Eugene O'Neill cast 1980 Louisville cast 1982 Broadway cast 1983 1st National tour cast 1983 London cast 1985 Film cast
Mother Miriam Ruth Jacqueline Brookes Anne Pitoniak Geraldine Page Mercedes McCambridge Honor Blackman Anne Bancroft
Dr. Martha Livingstone Jo Henderson Adale O'Brien Elizabeth Ashley Elizabeth Ashley Susannah York Jane Fonda
Sister Agnes Dianne Wiest Mia Dillon Amanda Plummer Maryann Plunkett Hilary Reynolds Meg Tilly

Production history[edit]

The play first was staged at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Connecticut in 1979. In 1980, the play further was developed at the Actors Theatre of Louisville. Pielmeier had been an actor at both of these venues and had been wanting to turn to playwriting, and he began writing Agnes in the summer of 1978.[2][3]

The play opened on Broadway on March 30, 1982 at the Music Box Theatre and closed on September 4, 1983 after 599 performances. Amanda Plummer received the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play, and Page was nominated for Best Actress in a Play.

During the run, Elizabeth Ashley was succeeded in her role by Diahann Carroll and Amanda Plummer by Mia Dillon, Carrie Fisher and Maryann Plunkett. Lee Remick played the psychiatrist in the show's pre-Broadway run in Boston and was advertised for the New York run but left the show before the New York opening.[4] A national tour was launched in 1983.[5]

In 1983, the play was staged in London at the Greenwich Theatre. A production also was staged at the Center Stage Theatre in Baltimore, Maryland, starring Tania Myren-Zobel as Agnes.[6][7]

In 1984, the play was staged in Mexico City, Mexico. The production was starring by Marga López, María Teresa Rivas and Blanca Guerra in the main roles.[8]

The National Tour starred Ashley and Mercedes McCambridge. There was also a summer stock production starring Sandy Dennis and Geraldine Page. As well as another production starring Peggy Cass and Susan Strasberg.

Film adaptation[edit]

The 1985 film adaptation was directed by Norman Jewison, with a script also written by Pielmeier. It garnered three Academy Award nominations: Meg Tilly was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, Anne Bancroft for Lead Actress for her performance as Mother Miriam, and Best Score. Anne Pitoniak, who played Miriam Ruth in the 1980 cast, also appears in the film, this time as the mother of Dr. Livingston. The film version changes Livingston's last name, removing the 'e' from Livingstone.


Pielmeier was inspired to write the play after seeing in article in a newspaper about an event that occurred in a convent in Brighton, New York, just outside the city limits of Rochester.[9] Sister Maureen Murphy, a thirty-six-year-old Montessori teacher, was found bleeding in her room by the other sisters of the convent after she did not come down for meals. Sister Maureen denied she had given birth; when examined by medical staff, she said she couldn't remember being pregnant. She had covered up the pregnancy by wearing the traditional nun's habit. The baby was found dead in her small convent room in a waste basket, asphyxiated.[10]

The police found ticket stubs and other information in the nun's room indicating that precisely nine months earlier she had traveled out of state to an educational conference. During the trial, the father of the baby was never named.[11][12][13]

At her trial, Sister Maureen waived her right to a jury, and Judge Hyman Maas presided. The trial was over in ten days, and Maas found the nun not guilty of all charges by reason of insanity in March 1977.[14][15] The convent where the incident occurred is adjacent to the still-functioning suburban parish and school. The convent is used to house University of Rochester graduate students. The girls' high school, St. Agnes, where some of the nuns taught, is closed.[16]


  1. ^ "Theatre Factory looks at faith, failings with 'Agnes of God'". 2010-10-26. Archived from the original on 2012-09-13. Retrieved 2011-01-18..
  2. ^ Agnes of God script accessed 11/23/2016
  3. ^ Agnes of God
  4. ^ "Miss Ashley Replaces Lee Remick in 'Agnes'". New York Times. March 9, 1982.
  5. ^ Grove, Lloyd. "'Agnes Of God': The Mysteries Of Belief" Washington Post, December 9, 1983
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Historical Review of the Mexican Theatre: Agnes of God
  9. ^ Pielmeier interview accessed 11/23/2016
  10. ^,1182231&hl=en Sarasota Herald-Tribune
  11. ^ " - Galveston Daily News - 1977-02-17 - Search Newspaper Articles". February 17, 1977. Retrieved September 13, 2011.
  12. ^
  13. ^,1311932&hl=en
  14. ^ "Schenectady Gazette – Google News Archive Search". March 5, 1977. Retrieved September 13, 2011.
  15. ^,1155129
  16. ^,971268&hl=en

External links[edit]