Joan of Arc. As a child, I was fascinated by the Wishbone version’s sparkly tree and the dynamic but distantly ethereal Joan.
In last night’s show produced by Johnathan Schofield and Diana Little, I was moved by a heroic yet accessible and real woman - no sparkly tree needed.
The 19th century script by Jane Alice Sargant is a challenging prospect. The text is iambic, yet sometimes more clunky and vague than that of our favorite William Shakespeare. Still, the actors handle their words well overall, with only a few falling prey to the rhythm of their lines or the sometimes overwhelming descriptive deluge. A story like that of Joan needs to be told in a different way than we tell our 21st century stories, and verse fits that bill.
The play opens during the Hundred Years’ War, a bloody conflict between the French and the English for control of the French throne – a conflict that ironically lasted well over a hundred years before grinding slowly to a halt in 1453.
The French heir apparent, Charles, needs help. His position is extremely precarious, and he is willing to give up the chance of a crown rather than risk everything in a war he cannot win. But then Joan comes. And, in the scene many of you are familiar with, she seeks him out successfully in a crowded court, asking him to help her fulfill her divine mission.
The rest is history, right? Dull, boring words on the pages of those dull, boring books you had to read for high school. Full of long speeches and dusty robes. Right? Wrong!
This play impacted me in a way I did not expect. The many characters who love, fight, betray, suffer and die in this story – they are real. Of course, they were based in historical fact, but they are real in an intimate, powerful way that any and all of you will notice if you attend. They really care about the fate of their countries. They really want to accomplish their goals, whether good or evil. They really feel the pain of losing loved ones. And as for Joan, she really wants to do the will of God.
There is so much I could say about each aspect of this show, but I can’t go on without giving a word to the crew. Brooke Waters, the lighting designer, had to be very creative because of the minimal electric capacity of the space. Yet, nothing seems lacking in her choices and the lighting creates some beautiful and powerful moments.
Austin Phillips’ costumes bring this story forward in time from the 15th century and yet retain some recognizable medieval elements. Visually striking, they added to my understanding of the story.
The set was designed by Johnathan Schofield, who also directed this show and played the French Charles. The playing space is a nice size, and the actors use it very well, making the audience feel a part of the action throughout the show. A pair of large gates upstage serve as the entrance to several locations, and the varying placement of a collection of benches really helps communicate where each scene takes place.
Now to the actors. The cast is large, but some performances deserve special note.
Johnathan Schofield, playing the French prince (and eventually king) Charles, embodies the vulnerable yet emerging monarch with special skill.
Scott Hull’s Valancour, in love with Joan yet furious at his failure to win her, brings both pity and disgust from the viewer in a powerful performance.
The stern yet lovable Du Nois, a character with several significant changes, is played skillfully by John Cox.
Richemont, the French nobleman turned English sympathizer, is a villain to curdle your blood as played by Harrison Beckmann.
Kaitlyn Chisholm plays one of this play’s saddest characters, Camouse’s widow. Her inward hysteria escapes in several chilling outbursts, making her quiet, yet thoroughly insane, demeanor all the more terrifying.
The various soldiers on both the English and French sides carry out their roles with gusto. Their war cries and battle scenes, while a challenging task for any cast, never fall flat, and they maintain fantastic energy throughout.
Last but not least, Diana Little plays Joan with an accessible quality I honestly didn’t think could be achieved with this character. Not only is her Joan devout, bold and patriotic – as expected – she is also shy, self-deprecating and vulnerable to – spoiler! - feelings of love.
Yes, Joan is burned at the stake for witchcraft in the end, but you all know that. In some of the most inspiring words spoken in this show, Joan expresses the desire to “To walk the earth as one who's home is heaven.” This show will push you to do just that.
~By Katrina Gass