When Wendy Bollard, artist director of Peninsula Productions, issued a call for actors to audition for the company's late-winter show, she was thrilled by the response.
"We had a lot of women come out for auditions for this one - at least 50 of them," Bollard said enthusiastically. "That kind of response shows that this is a great play and that it's one lots of people want to do, because they know they'll get an opportunity to work and really dig into these characters."
For the Peninsula-produced version of Agnes of God, which hits the boards at White Rock's Coast Capital Playhouse for a short run starting Thursday, Feb. 28, Bollard directs a "three-hander" cast of Laine Henderson, Becky Hachey and Nancy Ebert.
Hachey plays Agnes, a memory-challenged young nun accused of murdering her newborn baby. Her Mother Superior (played by Ebert) is convinced the whole ordeal is the work of God, leading to a clash with psychiatrist Martha Livingstone (Henderson).
John Pielmeier's religion-versus-science script, which leans on real-life events in late1970s Brighton, New York, hit Broadway in 1982 and, three years later, was adapted for a movie starring Meg Tilly, Jane Fonda and Anne Bancroft.
A couple decades ago, Bollard played Agnes in a version of the play staged at Vancouver's Metro Theatre by Act One, a defunct North Delta-based theatre company.
"I was just out of theatre school, so it's really great to revisit a script like this and go, 'Oh, that's what the show is about!" Bollard said with a burst of laughter. "You know, a couple decades later we're all older and a little wiser."
Since the early days of January, Bollard and the actors have rehearsed at the Semiahmoo Arts studio at Centennial Park - great space, Bollard says, given the dimensions of the well-lit room and use of the facility's coffee machine and fridge.
"People can look in on us here, and they do," Bollard said. "And when we did a photo shoot in the park wearing the nun habits (crafted by costumer Pat McClean), people were intrigued, for sure."
The production - which also features set pieces made by Bollard's handy husband, Andy Sorensen, set design by Bev Siver and lighting by Matt Vondettte - has since moved into the playhouse on Johnston Road for eight show times, closing Saturday, March 9.
Tickets range from $18 to $23 via 604-5367535 and www.whiterockplayers.ca (see link by scanning this page with the Layar app on your iOS or Android device). Opening night is Friday, March 1, with tonight's show (Feb. 28) serving as a $12-a-seat preview.
With Peninsula Productions, Bollard aims to stage lighter scripts in the summer months (such as the Canadian debut of Ken Ludwig's The Game's Afoot this coming July) and more dramatic ones in winter.
The three actors in Agnes of God have been working hard to mine every tiny piece of gold from Pielmeier's deep and beautiful script, Bollard said.
"This one is pretty heavy and it's also relevant today," she noted. "It was written about 30 years ago but there's still that fight between religion and science and how everyone wants to believe something, and that's really the through-line of this play.
Agnes really gets thrown in the middle of all that - whether she killed the baby and is pretending not to remember or whether she's seriously delusional. She hasn't had a pleasant life, and that comes out in the play as well."
At Semiahmoo Arts' studio, the company has closely followed the live-theatre formula of one hour of rehearsal time for every one minute of time on stage. The first act clocks in at 55 minutes, the second at around half an hour.
"The second act is a bit shorter because it's pretty hardcore, and the writer probably did that because any more than that and the audience would be totally exhausted," Bollard explained.
"I really like to have a longer rehearsal day, to run it sort of a like a professional production," she added. "I'd rather go two weeks at eight hours a day. You can't do that in this situation, but we did get a couple of six-and seven-hour rehearsals in on a Saturday. But with the subject matter of this, I find that my actors get really tired really quickly, so we added another day instead of doing longer days - and it's worked well for us. It helps having just the three actors, so it hasn't been too difficult to jive our schedules."