Review by Tulis McCall
March 16, 2017
As I left the Public Theater after seeing Joan of Arc: Into The Fire, what was on my mind was not this production but George Bernard Shaw's play, Saint Joan. I had a craving for a play that would satisfy not only my curiosity about Joan, but my need for a well thought out story. David Byrne's Joan is heavy on rock music and light on story.
Like his previously produced Here Lies Love, which I did not see, Byrne has created a theatrical event. For Marcos he created a disco, for Joan he has created a rock concert. It is Joan (Jo Lampert) and the Boys up until the very end when Joan's mother (Mare Winningham) pops out for her 15 seconds of fame and pleads for her daughter's memory.
We follow Joan as if she were a bouncing ball of yesteryear's sing-a-long short movies. Event follows event follows event until there are no more because Joan is no more. At age 16 she watches her village burned down by the occupying (for some 80 years) British. This is followed by her vision during which she receives instructions to hi-tail it to the uncrowned Dauphin (Kyle Selig). She is granted permission to fight, and she does, turning into a raging soldier like her men. They win the battle at Orleans and the Dauphin is crowned King Charles in Rouen. About a nanno-second after that, the newly minted King pulls the plug on Joan's crusade because he has pretty much concluded it is better to be a living King ruling a sliver of France, than a dead one who never got a chance to rule the whole magilla.
Joan carries on anyway and is captured by the British. They ask France for a ransom, which is denied, and Joan is thrown under the bus. When girls get pushy, the Big Guy has to do what he has to do. Left with Joan on their hands, English know they have a PR pileup front and center, and they do their best to get Joan to recant her tale of being God's messenger. When she does, they toss her back into jail instead of releasing her as they had promised. Joan does not like people lying to her so she recants her recant. Next stop: death by being burned at the stake.
Except for the part where her mother travels to Notre Dame to request a re-trial that will send Joan to Heaven. Or something like that.
The story rolls out like explosions from an automatic weapon in first gear. One event after another is delivered with volume and a myriad of special effects - strobe lights and smoke and did I see a disco ball? There is little differentiating between the moments. There is no story. There is no, you should pardon the expression, ARC.
Joan is relentless from start to finish. That is as much as this music and minimal text will allow her. One action. The cast is a banquet of talent, all of which is hemmed in like tigers in a cage. There is a story in here somewhere, but it never sees the light of day.
On the other hand, who is to say that Shaw's Saint Joan is any better at telling the truth? I am about to find out. Got a date with Joan and Mr.Shaw.
"Where’s the suspense, the conflict, the drama in such single-mindedness? That’s a question that is definitely not answered in 'Joan of Arc: Into the Fire,' which opened in a blaze of monotony at the Public Theater on Wednesday night. But it’s probably another query that will loom largest in your mind as you watch this 90-minute rock oratorio: How did the immense talents behind 'Here Lies Love' come up with something so inert?"
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"It’s disappointing that Joan of Arc: Into the Fire turns out to be a monumental dud. Plodding, reverent and dramatically inert, it suggests a Jesus Christ Superstar stripped of wit, ambivalence and social commentary."
Adam Feldman for Time Out New York
"A misguided alt-rock musical that reduces the crusade, persecution and death of the 15th century French heroine to a simplistic 'Martyrdom for Dummies' with a repetitious beat."
David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter
"Jo Lampert is so conspicuously exotic, with her pale, elongated face and icicle-thin body, that it’s entertaining just to watch her wave her flag and model her sexy armor. The performer’s compelling stage presence and powerful alto help her survive 'Joan of Arc: Into the Fire,' a flashy display of eye-catching stage tricks from director Alex Timbers."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
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