George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan premiered in London in 1924, four years after Joan of Arc’s canonization as a saint. It is a story that progresses from the first meeting of “The Maid” with Captain Robert de Baudricort to the initial battle won at Orleans, and the many subsequent victories before her eventual capture, her “trial” as a heretic and eventual burning at the stake. It is a tale of wonder, of miracles, of victory and defeat and trust and betrayal. It is perhaps above all the story of the strength and joy of her belief in God’s power as relayed by her “voices” (be they real or illusory) of Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret and her passion to drive the English from France.
At times it may appear that the extensive historical, ethical and moral issues involved are more than it is possible to absorb in one sitting, but as we are drawn into the drama, pathos and joy we realize it is neither a history lesson nor a moral treatise and allow ourselves to become, without reservation, a part of all that is happening before us.
Directed flawlessly by Eric Tucker, who is also a cast member, and stage managed by Sarah Nochenson, movement is kept to a minimum, allowing the power of the words to flow unhindered. The production is further served by the simplicity of the set, props and costumes.
In keeping with the company’s mission, the audience is integrated into the action. For the second act they are moved to the lobby to be part of a group listening to a debate about the dichotomy of church and state and later seated as part of the council determining Joan’s fate.
Although we are in awe of the fact that four actors can memorize three hours of text and present it flawlessly, what is truly noteworthy is their incredible talent. The performances of all four are without fault. Andrus Nichols as Saint Joan conveys her youth, fear and pride as well as her faith and extraordinary courage. Indeed, when she initially appears in the opening scene the Steward says, “She really doesn’t seem to be afraid of anything.”
Three men, Ted Lewis, Tom O’Keefe, and Eric Tucker, play a myriad of characters, twenty-three in all, each portrayed with complete conviction and clarity. The transitions from one character to another are remarkable.
There are many moments of Shavian humor, frequently growing out of the spirit of one-upmanship, as entertaining as they are unexpected.
The Epilogue encompasses the wonder of Joan returning, the posthumous nullification proceedings and subsequent canonization as a saint, the effusive praise proffered by all and, once again, their rejection.
Shaw concludes with Saint Joan’s powerful words, “Oh God that madest this beautiful earth, when will it be ready to receive Thy saints? How long, O Lord, how long?”
This is an amazing theatrical milestone. Do not miss it!
Presented by Bedlam and Access Theater
380 Broadway (at White Street, near Canal Street)
Tickets (212) 352-3101
Performances: May 9 through 12, 2012, at 7 p.m. May 13, 2012 at 3 p.m.