April 25, 2018
Totally self-assured, Condola Rashad depicts Joan of Arc’s laser clear determination to lead the French armies during the bloody Hindered Years’ Wars. Yes, there’s the confession to hearing the voices of saints guiding her to assist Charles VII in his struggle to reclaim France from England, but that hardly sounds insane during these days of fantastical claims. A peasant girl, Joan found her “calling” at a young age.
In this authoritative, straightforward production handily directed by Daniel Sullivan the action is poised in the words. Fortunately, the cast is capable of animating the text based on the records of her trial. Written by George Bernard Shaw in 1923, the show fanned out in six scenes.
Structurally, the scenic devise condenses the journey into clear chapters. Everything is set in motion when Joan, convinces Robert de Baudricourt, captain of the royal garrison, to give her an escort to the court of Charles Valois, Dauphin of France (Adam Chanler-Berat). Gazing directly at him, Joan makes clear her vision and although he pooh poos it, her determination to see the Dauphin crowned king intrigues him. Of course, the military forces are floundering, thus opening up a route for anyone thrilled to lead the dispirited troupes.
Once in front of the Dauphin, Joan insinuates herself into his frail sphere of trust and convinces him that she alone can guide his ascension. Because the play is written in a matter-of fact way owning in part to Shaw's feminist ethics, some of the dumb-struck awe that must have surrounded her pronouncements becomes one, understated tone.
Although it’s not completely clear why Joan was so successful at leading a band of war-weary men, there are some utterances about Joan’s gift at gaining the men’s loyalty. Of course, she fights in the fields shoulder to shoulder with her men, that in itself could be enough to entrust one’s life in her hands.
The small cast duplicates roles, but it must be noted that the Inquisitor, Patrick Page deploys a bass voice that heralds the great radio announcers of the 1930’s and 1940’s. It’s just astonishing to hear such clear pronunciation underscoring the music embedded in the English language. Generally seated in the director’s chair, Walter Bobbie grandly returns to the stage in the role of the Bishop—who both supports and in the end must condemn Joan.
Despite her successes, Joan is burned at the stake for heresy, but she accepts her fate in much the same way as Iphigenia who was sacrificed in order to insure fair winds for the ships sailing to Troy. Iphigenia’s name translates to “strong born,” “born to strength” - adjectives that suit Joan. Both are joined by their heroic actions--both accept their fate for the sake of their country.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis