Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors
Condala Rasha as Saint Joan, Daniel Sunjata as Dunois. Photo: Joan Marcus
Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors
In the 15th century, a young French country girl, inspired by saints' voices, persuaded the socio-religious powers-that-be to let her lead the French army against the British occupation during the ongoing 100 Years War. No small feat for a 17-year-old girl in a patriarchal society. She was called "The Maid," "Joan of Arc," and later, five centuries after her death, she was acknowledged as Saint Joan.
It is not a spoiler to say that the zealous teenage warrior won the battle but lost her war. She was captured, labeled a heretic and burned at the stake. "Half an hour to burn you, dear Saint, and four centuries to find out the truth about you!"
Three years after she was canonized in 1920, George Bernard Shaw wrote Saint Joan, a straightforward drama with Shavian jolts of caustic humor, social satire and a fantasy epilogue. Shaw's play is currently featured in a Manhattan Theatre Club production at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.
Under Scott Pask's set, notable for its hanging golden pipes that made me wonder if organ music would be part of the show, Saint Joan is directed by Daniel Sullivan. The setting is France from 1429 to 1431, while the French are at war with England who occupy much of France and has demoralized the French army. Sullivan (The Little Foxes) keeps a steady hand over a cast of major-league talents with his centerpiece, Joan, portrayed with unerring conviction by the talented Condola Rashad (The Doll's House, Part Two). Joan finds herself up against a misogynistic society and Church, portrayed by a first-rate cast, almost all men, including Daniel Sunjata as the sympathetic Dunois, John Glover as Archbishop and Walter Bobbie as the sly Bishop of Beauvais.
Joan is denigrated, igniting apprehension and suspicions of manipulations by the devil. She is condemned for her unfeminine demeanor and clothing. Patrick Page is outstanding as a high-handed Squire Robert de Baudricourt, who could not abide how this young girl could just appear and demand to speak to him. (Page later portrays the Inquisitor who sends her to her death.) To get rid of Joan, he sends her on to the Dauphin (Adam Chanler-Berat) who is later crowned King Charles VI. While generally viewed skeptically, Joan manages to convince the Dauphin to let her lead the army. The army was so powerless now, how much worse could things get?
The attacks against Joan increase even as she succeeds in battle. Portrayed by three-time Tony nominee Rachad, Joan is convincing as an lanky, androgynous-looking, wide-eyed 17-year-old devoted to her mission, which is considered unrealistic from the start. "And in case the Church should bid me do anything contrary to the command I have from God, I will not consent to it, no matter what it may be." Rachad shows a mien of assurance, naïveté and finally outrage during her interrogators' questioning. It is a challenging role and Rachad's Joan is skillful but lacks a indefinable mysticism.
Shaw's play runs almost three hours of talky tedium and segments of provocative ambiguity, a play that might be best read on a rainy afternoon and then debated in an Irish bar.
MTC's Friedman Theater
261 W. 47h St., NYC
Previews: Apr. 4, 2018. Opening: Apr. 25, 2018. Close: June 10, 2018
Cast: Condola Rashad (Joan), Walter Bobbie (Bishop of Beauvais, Cauchon), Adam Chanler-Berat (The Dauphin, Charles VII), Jack Davenport (Earl of Warwick), John Glover (Archbishop of Rheims/A Gentleman), Patrick Page (Robert de Baudricourt/The Inquisitor), Daniel Sunjata (Dunois), Maurice Jones (Page to Dunois/Canon de Courcelles), Russell G. Jones (Monseigneur de la Trémouille/Page to Warwick), Max Gordon Moor (Gilles de Rais, Bluebeard/Brother Martin Ladvenu), Matthew Saldivar (Bertrand de Poulengey/Canon John D'Estivet), Robert Stanton (Steward to Baudricourt/Chaplain de Stogumber/An English Soldier), Lou Sumrall (Captain La Hire/The Executioner); and ensemble Tony Carlin, Ben Horner, Mandi Masden, Howard W. Overshown, Michael Rudko, and RJ Vaillancourt
Playwright: George Bernard Shaw
Running Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes with one intermission
Director: Daniel Sullivan
Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors
Also can be read on TotalTheater.com