Review: ‘Agnes’ Brings Dramatic and Meteorological Tensions to 59E59 Theater
By Miles Harter, Contributing Writer, September 14, 2018
Agnes is a compelling play about family, friendship, and connections. Set in a three-bedroom New York City apartment, Agnes presents five millennials sheltering themselves from a major storm.
The talented playwright, Catya McMullen, adeptly sets up the backstory for her characters, foreshadowing upcoming conflicts. The play focuses largely on June and her older brother, Charlie. Charlie’s one-word explanation for how he was able to get away with a less-than-a-minute phone call with his mother (while June’s call lasted 45 minutes) is: “Aspergers.” June is very fond and protective of Charlie, and also lives with her girlfriend, Elle, who is just starting medical school. Adding to the mix longtime friend of Charlie and June, the exuberant Ronan, who has also invited his childhood friend, Anna, to come and wait out the storm. Anna and June have previously had a relationship, and Charlie continues to be infatuated with Anna based on his memory of a shared kiss 15 years ago. And with that, the frenetic and intense drama takes us through a series of uncomfortable and provocative conversations and confrontations.
The rapid-fire dialogue is astonishing. The play is full of laugh-out-loud lines, some triggered by the brutal and awkward honesty of Charlie. When Anna compliments him on how much better looking he is now that he has grown up, he responds that he had grown into his forehead. The academic struggles that medical student Elle faces are very familiar to many New York theatregoers; at one breaking point, she frets about her “staring contest with a picture of a coracobrachialis muscle for 45 minutes,” and admits, “The body’s stupid. I hate it.” In that regard, however, it is troubling that although the characters are generally supportive in varying ways, June (and the others) do not seem to care about Elle’s study issues. It is a credit to McMullen, and the fine actor playing Elle, Mykal Monroe, that we in the audience so strongly empathize with her.
The other four actors also are marvelous. Hiram Delgado, in his first show since graduating from NYU’s Graduating Acting Program, shines in his role as the likeable Ronan, the “bro” in the group. Claire Siebers as Anna exudes just the right amount of sensuality and vulnerability. John Edgar Barker is perfectly cast as the sweet and inquisitive Charlie. Likewise, Laura Ramadei is good as the confident and mostly stable June.
In one fascinating twist, four different scenes of the play begin with taped conversations, occurring in different cities in America. At first, the performance of the dialogue of these tapes is just an irritant, as it is not evident how they relate to the main events of the play. But gradually the meaning and import of the tapes become clear, and McMullen wraps up the mystery of the conversations in a very satisfying way.
The name of the play invokes the name of the storm, Agnes. Ronan points out that, curiously, this was a recycled name, already given to an earlier Hurricane Agnes. According to Ronan, “that bitch was craaaaaaaazy.”
The play, presented by Lesser America, a theater company that aspires to be a bridge between traditional and experimental theater brings unusual stories that are relevant to young, modern audiences. The unusual drama of Agnes happens to be similar to the groundbreaking new Netflix series called Atypical, which is also being recognized for its sensitive portrayal of a family dealing with autism. Agnes happened to be my first Lesser America experience, but I am certain that even non-young theatregoers will continue to enjoy other equally innovative and moving productions.
Agnes, presented by Lesser America, in association with Hugh Hayes, at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, through Saturday, September 29, 2018. By Catya McMullen. Directed by Jenna Worsham; scenic design by Angelica Borrero; costume design by Nicole Slaven; lighting design by Cheyenne Sykes; sound design by Daniel Melnick.
Cast: John Edgar Barker, Hiram Delgado, Mykal Monroe, Laura Ramadei, and Claire Siebers.
Cover: (l. to r.) Hiram Delgado, Mykal Monroe and Laura Ramadei in ‘Agnes,’ photo: Hunter Canning.