Saint Joan | The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

play_stjoan_sm.jpgIrish playwright George Bernard Shaw is given an excellent showcase in the Repertory of St. Louis’s current production of Saint Joan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw is given an excellent showcase in the Repertory of St. Louis’s current production of Saint Joan. Shaw’s script from 1923 tackles the familiar story of Joan of Arc, imbuing the tragic tale with an undeniable sense of humor along the way. Though historians will debate the accuracy of the events portrayed here, Shaw does adhere closely to the transcripts available, even if he could be accused of "humanizing" the villains of the piece. A top notch cast works the material with precision, carefully and thoughtfully savoring Shaw’s verbiage.

Tarah Flanagan is well cast as Joan. Her diminutive stature and boyish haircut aside, it’s her plucky enthusiasm and endearing innocence that bring the character to life. Her unwavering belief in what the voices tell her never seems contrived, or attributable to the ravings of an unstable mind. She’s well matched in the presence of Tuck Milligan as her inquisitor, Peter Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais. His outrage at Joan’s unwillingness to recant her position is nicely balanced against his desire to save her body, and soul, from the ravages that will occur if she fails to comply.

A large cast, with many of the actors playing dual roles, delivers exceptional support. Bobby Steggert is amusing as Charles, the Dauphin (soon to be Charles the Victorious), giving his "boy who would be king" a petulant and cowardly countenance. Jerry Vogel is quite good as the Squire who first allows Joan to follow her destiny, and later as a promoter at her inquisition. Jason Cannon makes a strong impression as the gung-ho Captain Le Hire, and as the ghost of an English soldier who’s taking a day off from Hell.

John Rensenhouse makes a compelling argument on behalf of his fellow feudal lords as Richard de Beauchamp. His attempts to sway the church in his favor are aided by the misguided efforts of Chaplain John de Stogumber, effectively played by Christopher Gerson. His revelation is at the core of the plot, and Gerson manages to make his zealot pitiable. Kevin Orton makes Jack Dubois a lovable rouge as he instructs Joan on military strategy. Matt D’Amico is adept as both the heroic, but simple minded Bertrand, and the overly pious Brother Martin.

Director Paul Mason Barnes keeps the action moving with the scenes flowing seamlessly into one another, but some of the staging leaves actors with their backs to large sections of the audience for extended periods of time. Robert Mark Morgan’s scenic design features a curved Gothic arch which looms over the proceedings, reinforcing the sense of religious oppression. Peter Sargent’s lighting neatly enhances the mood and set. Costume designer Dorothy Marshall Englis does fine work recreating the period.

The question of whether Joan truly heard the voices of angels, or was simply listening to her own inner voice, or suffering from some sort of mental disorder, will probably never be answered. If the themes presented still don’t seem to resonate with you, then consider the stories that circulated regarding President Bush’s claim that God told him to go to war. How would Joan be treated today?

Modern audiences would probably prefer that the play, described as "six scenes and an epilogue," end after Joan’s fiery death at the hands of her English captors, but the epilogue offers a look at how time distorts popular opinion, and it lightens the mood of the piece considerably as Joan’s accusers offer their belated capitulations. | Chris Gibson

 

The Rep’s production of Saint Joan continues through February 1, 2009 at the Loretto-Hilton. For more information go online to http://www.repstl.com/.

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