Agnes of God at the Morgan-Wixson and The Hope Theory at the Geffen Playhouse

Sarah Dennis stars as the novice nun whose sanity is questioned after the death of her newborn in Agnes of God at the Morgan-Wixson in Santa Monica. (Photo credit: Joel Castro)

Agnes of God, a 1979 play by American playwright John Pielmeier, tells the story of a novice nun who gives birth but does not believe she has nor can she reveal the name of the baby’s father, convinced by her belief in God that it was the result of a virginal conception. But after the newborn is found dead in the young nun’s room, a court-appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Martha Livingstone, is summoned to the convent, charged with assessing her sanity. The play evolves as the psychiatrist and the Mother Superior of the convent clash during the resulting battle-of-wills investigation, pitting faith against science. 

The riveting psychological thriller centers on getting Agnes to admit to the crime prior to being tried for manslaughter of the baby, even though no one was aware of the pregnancy. The mystical, harrowing, and puzzling play has been described by director Zoe Lesser as “a combination of Rosemary’s Baby meets docu-drama meets The Exorcist in its themes of bodily autonomy, religious devotion, and supernatural ambiguity.” 

Featured in the cast are Bunmi Famuyiwa as Dr. Martha Livingstone, Sarah Dennis (the production’s producer) as Agnes, and Mouchette van Helsdingen as Mother Miriam Ruth. Sarah and Mouchette will grab your attention from start to finish with their intense emotional performances, but Bunmi needs to work on her projection so her lines can he heard in all parts of the theater. She also played the psychiatrist as a rather wishy-washy character, compared to the emotional intensity of the other two actors. And I am not sure why the choice was made to dress her so casually as it really took away from her professional status, given the serious nature of her inquiry.

Kudos to the minimal yet totally functional set design by Jack Hagen, lighting design by Jimmy Balistreri, projection design by Nita Mendoza, and sound design by Zoe Lesser, all of which contributed elements of spiritually and terror during the most intense moments.

Ultimately the father of the baby is never revealed, allowing us to consider a miracle – an event without an explanation – occurred. And even though we know the fate of Agnes from the opening statement by Dr. Livingstone, it does not detract from the intensity of the final moments of this extraordinary production, which are perhaps some of the most riveting scenes in any modern play, expertly performed with explosive truth and deep-seated emotional depth by Sarah Dennis as the hypnotized Agnes who finally confesses what happened on the night the dead newborn was found.     

Agnes of God by John Pielmeier continues at The Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd, Santa Monica 90405 through May 26 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. Reserved seats are Adults $25, Seniors $23, and Students $20, available at, by phone at 310-828-7519 or by email at It is not recommended for children due to adult themes and language.

Master illusionist and storyteller Helder Guimarães dazzles audiences during The Hope Theory at the Geffen Playhouse. (Photo credit: Justin Bettman)

Close-up magic by master illusionist and storyteller (and apparent mind-reader) Helder Guimarães mesmerizes and dazzles audiences during his latest production, The Hope Theory, directed by EGOT award-winning director/producer Frank Marshall, their fourth collaboration at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood. I guarantee you will be blown away each time astounding eye-trickery has you questioning about what you just witnessed during this entirely new theatrical event!

Along the way, Guimarães offers a unique perspective on America, international political oppression, and the universal desire for freedom through the eyes of an optimistic outsider – a Portuguese immigrant who arrived in America at age 29. Wide-eyed and full of ideas, he soon discovered people do not always tell the truth or keep their promises, jobs are difficult to find, and the combination of cultural and professional challenges seemed to block his ambition to create a viable living doing what he loved so he could build a home for his future wife and family.

While I would love to tell you about the incredible bafflements I witnessed, I do not want to spoil the surprises and fun you will have, just as I did, during this astounding world premiere production. What I will say is that the constant “what?” frequently uttered by the audience attested to the skill with which Guimarães completed such extraordinary illusions, even when blindfolded!

When you arrive, you will be given a number from which participants are selected to take part in many of the illusions both onstage and from your seat. And there will be no hiding when your number is called, so be prepared to play your part, whether called upon to name a card, examine a prop for its authenticity, or join Guimarães onstage as a participant. Whether you can called upon or not, I guarantee you won’t regret being part of this ultimate excursion into the unbelievable! 

Kudos for the entire creative team and helpful Geffen staff, each of whom created a very welcoming atmosphere from the moment I stepped into the theater. Please do not miss this enthralling production so you can experience all the mind-challenging surprises just as I did!

The Hope Theory continues in the intimate Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater at Geffen Playhouse,10886 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles 90024. Performances take place Wednesday through Sunday evenings, with matinees on Saturday/Sunday, with five shows performed in Spanish as La Teoría de la Esperanza. 

Tickets are priced at $30 – $129, available by phone at 310.208.2028 or online at where the listing of shows in both languages is available. Rush tickets for each performance are made available to the public one hour before showtime at the box office for $35 General/$15 Student. All Geffen Playhouse productions are intended for an adult audience; children under 12 years of age will not be admitted. Age recommendation for this production is 16+.