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A powerful ‘Agnes’ at Celebration Arts

In putting together a season roster, artistic directors must weigh factors both creative and financial – from the cost of royalties, to the size of the stage, to scenic-design requirements. And though the finished dish may be delectable, rarely does a recipe end up with that perfect combination of ingredients in all of the right proportions.

But, sometimes, prayers are answered.

Celebration Arts Artistic Director James Wheatley, who directs the theater’s current production of "Agnes of God" (March 22-April 28), was searching for a show that would satisfy some very-specific needs, including the above-mentioned considerations.

"I was looking for a small-cast play featuring females," said Wheatley, noting the greater availability of female actors in the Sacramento area. "When I thought about ‘Agnes,’ it seemed like it would be a nice challenge for the actors, that it would stretch them out."

Most importantly, he said, play selection is all about satisfying audience expectations, and "Agnes" seemed to be a good fit for Celebration Arts’ drama-heavy, 7-year-old wheelhouse.

"I liked the story," said Wheatley. "I liked the way playwright John Pielmeier told the story, the way it’s done in a seamless series of short scenes. It should provide a good experience for the audience."

"It really was good for us," he continued. "It didn’t require extensive sets – just a table and a couple of chairs. There aren’t even a lot of props. I have to rely a lot on the actors to convey the story."

As summarized by the play’s publisher, "Agnes" is the emotionally charged story of a horrifying discovery at a convent.

Dr. Martha Livingstone (Voress Franklin), a court-appointed psychiatrist, is charged with assessing the sanity of Agnes (Imani Mitchell), a young novice accused of murdering her newborn. But Miriam Ruth (Alana Mathews), the Mother Superior, is determined to keep Agnes from the doctor, further arousing Livingstone’s suspicions.

"Who killed the infant – and who fathered the tiny victim? Livingstone’s questions force all three women to re-examine the meaning of faith and the power of love leading to a dramatic, compelling climax."

Set in the early-1970s, "Agnes of God" debuted in 1980 to popular and critical acclaim, earning it a place in the 1982 Broadway season. Three years later, a big-screen adaptation of "Agnes" (also written by Pielmeier) premiered, starring Jane Fonda, Anne Bancroft and Meg Tilly.

"Shows make people think," said Wheatley, a retired California EDD manager who also finds time to act in addition to his Celebration Arts administrative duties. "We don’t do plays just to do plays. But there’s no guarantee any play will draw anybody. It’s sort of a crapshoot every time you do one. You just never know – you just keep trying."


WHAT: The Celebration Arts production of John Pielmeier’s "Agnes of God"

WHEN: Plays March 22 through April 28, 2013, with performances at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. Sundays

WHERE: Celebration Arts Theatre, 4469 D St., Sacramento, Calif.

WHO: Directed by James Wheatley; featuring Voress Franklin (Dr. Martha Livingstone), Alana Mathews (Mother Miriam Ruth), and Imani Mitchell (Agnes)

HOW MUCH: $8 to $15, with discounts available for children (under 12), students, seniors and SARTA members

MORE INFO/TIX: Call (916) 455-2787; www.celebrationarts.net

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