The Roman Catholic Church marked The Maid of Orléans /Saint Joan/Joan of Arc a heretic in 1431 burning her at the stake despite incalculable service to the state. Voltaire, Shakespeare , Schiller, Tchaikovsky…and well over a dozen films have addressed her life. Shaw’s version premiered three years after charges were revoked and she was canonized in 1920. The playwright stated that Joan had been romanticized by others, accusers painted as villains. His piece presents fallible human beings struggling with political, religious, and moral issues.
Adam Chanler-Berat and Condola Rashad
Over the course of six scenes and a droll epilogue, we watch as soldiers, nobles, clergy, and France’s Dauphin give in to a 17 year-old country farm girl who seems to be touched by God; as the naïve, untutored teenager leads an army to dispel the siege of Orléans crowning Charles VII at Reims; as she’s captured by the opposing Burgundian faction allied with England, and indicted by a church who could find no other response to her avowed converse with saints than to eliminate her.
Interpretation of Joan is the axis on which this play revolves. Three-time Tony nominee Condola Rashad and Director Daniel Sullivan manifest the heroine as a plucky, wide-eyed innocent resembling Tom Sawyer. Portrayal makes it impossible to believe authority fell before the girl’s singular intent. There’s nothing about her person that speaks of beatification. We’re left to assume that a change of wind direction (allowing boats to sail towards Orléans) and ignored wound were sufficiently convincing.
John Glover; Jack Davenport
Until its “trial,” the drama is played with a light touch most especially by Adam Chanler-Berat who depicts the Dauphin as a whiny, incompetent brat. (Good acting here – curious direction.) This leaves the excellent Daniel Sunjata (Dunois), John Glover (Archbishop of Reims), Matthew Saldivar (Bertrand de Poulengey), and Jack Davenport (Earl of Warwick) without equal pith against which to play. (All these actors act duel roles.)
Patrick Paige (The Inquisitor) and Walter Bobbie (Cauchon) hold their own throughout, offering welcome gravitas during Joan’s questioning. Paige is especially nuanced. The Maid’s oblivious faith in her fellow man is shattered, an event to which Rashad rises with emotional vigor and credibility. Arguments here are more interesting than anything that preceded.
Patrick Page, Howard W. Overshown, Max Gordon Moore, Condola Rashad, Walter Bobbie
A second compelling section arrives with the epilogue during which the chronicle’s major participants, dead and alive, meet in the King’s bed many years later. Entertaining dialogue reminds one of Shaw’s Don Juan in Hell.
Daniel Sullivan has given us much better. The production is, alas, too bland for its britches.
Scott Pask’s evocative Scenic Design makes us feel as if inside a church organ ie all bets are off in conflict with inescapable religion. Costumes by Jane Greenwood are correct and attractive. Armor is grand.
Photos by Joan Marcus
Opening: Condola Rashad
Manhattan Theatre Club presents
Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw
Directed by Daniel Sullivan
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th Street