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'Agnes of God' discusses mental health and trauma through a nun’s pregnancy

Agnes of God
Company Carolina will put on "Agnes of God," the story of a nun who gets pregnant and claims the child is of virgin birth.

First-year Elizabeth Wheless, who plays Agnes in Company Carolina’s upcoming show, "Agnes of God," will not leave the stage for the entirety of the evening on Thursday. The play features just three characters, all female, in the entire script. 

“You get to know your castmates really well not only as their characters but as people and as actors,” Wheless said. “We still build a family environment out of it, and I love that.”

Wheless’ character, Agnes, is a nun who gives birth but claims that the baby is of virgin birth. The other two women in the show play a psychiatrist and the head nun, Mother Superior. 

Not many plays have an ensemble consisting of just three characters, which makes "Agnes of God" unique. Wheless said she is thankful she got to be a part of such a special show that expanded her horizons as an actress. 

Junior Kate Whaley is a co-director of the show alongside sophomore Clay Cooper. Although this is Whaley’s first time on the production end of a show, as she had only acted before, she said she is proud to be a part of a play with such impactful messages. 

“If we don’t tell these stories that are difficult to tell on a campus like UNC, where will they be told?” Whaley said. “We feel that certain stories are neglected because they are hard to hear or tell, but we thought that was a good reason to tell that story through the storytelling media of theater.”

"Agnes of God" covers a range of difficult topics from mental illness to sexual assault. Wheless said all of these concerns fall under that greater umbrella of the concept of truth. 

“The main theme of the play is truth and how truth can vary from person to person,” Wheless said. “We all have our own personal truths. It depends on how their truths change throughout the story. It’s important to note that truths can change. The star of this show is really what you leave with as your truth.” 

The plot is based on a true story and was assembled by American playwright John Pielmeier, who also wrote the play "The Exorcist." The 1986 film adaptation of "Agnes of God" was nominated for three Academy Awards and two Golden Globes, winning one. 

Senior Tori Jewell, who plays the atheist psychiatrist, said one reason viewers enjoy the show so much is that they feel as though they are a part of it. 

“The audience gets to be on the same journey as the characters,” Jewell said. “You really don’t have all the answers until the characters do.”

Whaley said that her and Cooper’s directing vision for the show attempted to take advantage of its interactive feeling.  

“We really wanted to make the show immersive so the audience feels like they are experiencing these things with the characters,” Whaley said. “We have really intense lighting and sound, and you get transported into the minds of each character. We hope everyone has their own takeaways based on their experiences because it really is such a personal and intimate show.” 

Sophomore Campbell Kargo, secretary of Company Carolina, said this clear and elaborate vision is one reason the board chose the show. She said the three-person cast and enveloping aspects of the show give a profound insight into the human psyche. 

“It explores the depths of human mind in a very original way,” Kargo said. “It shows a lot about human interaction.” 

Whether it be a closer look at how the mind deals with mental illness, trauma, truths or religion, Jewell said the play provides diverse takes on all the matters. 

The play provides a contrast of a pious nun and an atheist psychiatrist investigating Agnes, who is somewhere in between. 

“The play brings up some interesting points on both sides,” Jewell said. “It does a good job not siding with either view. Their two sides of the same coin — two choices. Neither one is right or wrong. It’s just how people choose to live. We could do this show for another month, and I still wouldn’t have a perfect grip on it.”

Kargo said coming out to see the play is a great way to support the theater and see what UNC students have been pouring their hearts into for the past few months. 

“First and foremost, the arts are super important and underappreciated,” Kargo said. "The three actresses on that stage have put so much work into it. It would be a shame for people not to come see it. You will get something out of it.”

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