The play 'Agnes of God' has been staged at the University of Malta Valletta Campus Theatre as part of a wider project aimed at creating a space for dialogue between theists and atheists, based on the approach that whatever our beliefs, we all share a common human experience with lots of questions but few answers.
Agnes of God (written by John Pielmeier and directed by Dr Tyrone Grima) is a three-hander thriller set in a cloistered monastery. In a nutshell, a novice (Kyra Lautier) gives birth to a baby which is found dead a few minutes later. A psychiatrist (Simone Ellul) is commissioned to assess the mental health of the nun but the mother superior (Isabel Warrington) does not make it easy because there is more than meets the eye.
To kickstart the discussion, we published written and video recorded material on social media, focusing on two main topics: ethics and femininity. Following the performances, two webinars were organised to continue exploring the poignant questions raised by the thought provoking drama. To ensure varied opinions and points of view, we involved contributors with different backgrounds: Rev. Dr Carlo Calleja, and Dr Pauline Dimech from the Faculty of Theology, Ms Simone Azzopardi from the Faculty of Arts, Prof. Vicki Ann Cremona, the chair of the School of Performing Arts, and Ms Gail Debono a psychologist and a member of the Malta Humanist Association.
Initial analysis of the experience indicates that we have managed to engage people with wide-ranging perspectives into dialogue, with an overwhelming feeling that the theatre production helped viewers put themselves in the shoes of the characters and see the world through a different lens.
Many valid points have been raised in the webinars, with a central point standing out: What is sometimes blamed on religion, is actually more attributable to human limitations: Whether coming from a science (as the psychiatrist) or religious background (the mother superior), we all have our blind spots and need the perspectives of others to help us see more objectively.
This initiative would not have been possible without the support of the University-funded research project titled "Perspectives on the human quest for existential meaning through theatre" in joint collaboration between Dr Christian Colombo an academic within the Computer Science Department and chairperson of the Malta Humanist Association, and Prof. Vicki Ann Cremona and Dr Tyrone Grima from the School of Performing Arts.
It is hoped that this project is just one step out of several others in the future, which continue to build a bridge for communication between different polarities of society, based on the deep need in each human person to find meaning in life.