John Pielmeier found the roots of his play by reading a newspaper article about an event that occurred in a convent in Brighton, New York. Sister Maureen Murphy was found bleeding in her room by other sisters. 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 her traditional nun's habit. The baby was found dead in her convent room in a waste basket, asphyxiated. Nine months earlier, Sister Maureen had traveled unaccompanied to an educational conference. During her trial, the father of the baby was never named, and rape wasn't discussed. Sister Maureen was declared not guilty by reason of insanity.
Pielmeier, in his prefatory notes about producing Agnes of God gives some indications of his concept: "The scenes flow one into another, without pause. Characters appear and disappear, and may even be present onstage when not in a particular scene. Because it is a play of the mind, and miracles, it is a play of light and shadows."
In this intense scene from the film version, Dr. Livingstone pushes Agnes toward confronting reality ...
Summoned to a convent, Dr. Martha Livingstone, a court-appointed psychiatrist is charged with assessing the sanity of a young novice, Agnes, who is accused of murdering her newborn.
Mother Miriam Ruth, the Superior, determinedly shields young Agnes from the doctor, arousing Livingstone's suspicions further. Who killed the infant and who fathered the tiny victim?
Agnes insists that the child was a virgin conception and Mother Miriam insists on the possibility of miracles. Livingstone, a confirmed atheist with a difficult religious past, insistently pushes Agnes with questions, which leads to explosive revelations each person finds disturbing in her own way.
About Agnes of God
John Pielmeier wrote Agnes of God in 1978; and the play received a workshop reading at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Connecticut, in 1979. After further development, the play premiered in 1980 in Louisville, Kentucky.
Agnes of God reached Broadway in 1982, with notable casts that included Geraldine Page, Elizabeth Ashley, Diahann Carroll, Mia Dillon, Carrie Fisher, Maryann Plunkett, and Amanda Plummer, who received the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play.
In 1985, the film adaptation, directed by Norman Jewison, starring Anne Bancroft, Jane Fonda, and Meg Tilly. This film earned three Academy Award nominations for Meg Tilly, for Anne Bancroft, and for the score.
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