“Half an hour to burn you, dear Saint, and four centuries to find out the truth about you!”
The story of Joan of Arc, so utterly implausible – so intensely layered with political and religious overtones, so fraught with treachery and intrigue – is widely known, yet not easily summarized.
Yes, we all know that The Maid of Orleans, as she came to be known, was accused of heresy and witchcraft (among many other extremely grave sins, including cross-dressing) and burned at the stake. We are all aware of her vaunted military accomplishments – and yet few may know that her direct participation in actual battle is still the subject of heated dispute among historians.
She was a peasant girl who came into extraordinary prominence by hearing voices that told her what to do, a phenomenon widely referred to today as schizophrenia, whose sufferers are often confined to mental institutions and subjected to rigorous regimens of anti-psychotic drugs.
She was a girl with no education or military training who brought about a most significant reversal in the 100 Years War between England and France, who succeeded in crowning a doomed and hapless Dauphin into the King of France, who inspired fanatical reverence among rugged, embittered, war-weary soldiers, and who ultimately aroused utter panic in the highest political and religious figures of her time, who conspired to bring about her demise through malicious and depraved survival schemes.
George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan dramatizes what is known of her life based on the substantial records of her Inquisition trial. After studying the transcripts, Shaw concluded that The Maid’s torturers were acting in good faith and in accordance to their beliefs, writing, in his preface to the play, that “There are no villains in the piece.. [ ] It is what men do at their best, with good intentions, and what normal men and women find that they must and will do in spite of their intentions, that really concern us.” As true as that may be, some years after her death the Church itself saw fit to vacate her sentence and eventually declare her a martyr and a Saint, thereby acknowledging that Joan’s questioning of the Church’s infallibility had been, all along, quite apt (somewhat hilariously, in the play’s coda, as Joan pleads to be resurrected, all her allies make themselves scarce).
The play, which premiered in New York City in 1923 and received Best Revival Tony and Olivier Awards in 1993 and 2008, respectively, has been performed countless times and starred such stage luminaries as Uta Hagen, Lynn Redgrave, Eileen Atkins and Judi Dench. The current Manhattan Theatre Club production, on Broadway through June 10, features the talented Condola Rashad and a capable but somewhat uninspiring cast, from which Patrick Page, however, stands out in the dual roles of Robert de Beaudricourt, a military squire, and the mellifluous, but bone-chilling, Inquisitor.
Capable but somewhat uninspiring is a description that, regrettably, must be extended to much of the first act of this production. It is hard to find fault with anyone’s performance or with Daniel Sullivan’s competent direction, but the complex subtlety of the wonderfully wicked dialogues, especially those between the French Bishop of Beauvais and the British Earl of Warwick, appeared to be handled a bit cursorily. And while Ms. Rashad’s Joan of Arc mesmerizes in the superbly staged, climactic scene of her trial, her reticence in fully embracing The Maid’s larger-than-life personality felt somewhat of a missed opportunity for the first half of the play.
(Photo by Joan Marcus)
What the popular press says...
"In Daniel Sullivan’s thoughtful if mostly becalmed staging at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater on Broadway, he and Condola Rashad, his chipper Joan, stick close to the author’s brief. Their Maid of Orleans is, as Shaw writes in the play's preface, “a born boss.”"
Jesse Green for New York Times
"Bernard Shaw’s 1923 drama follows a young woman pitted against the patriarchy in a story packed with faith, miracles and martyrdom. Dramatic stuff. But the revival at the Friedman Theatre has as much crackle as soggy kindling."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"Despite a capable cast, led by a composed and steely-eyed Rashad (and including the excellent Robert Stanton in a trio of small roles), Saint Joan doesn’t rise to meet the contemporary energy of youthful protest with which it coincides. It flickers with intelligence but doesn’t burn."
Adam Feldman for Time Out New York
"Burn me at the stake for heresy if you must, but I'll say it. Even when done well, Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan is a slog. And since Manhattan Theatre Club's Broadway revival of the 1923 play isn't done very well, it's even more of a slog than usual. The production has been anticipated for the starring turn of three-time Tony nominee Condola Rashad in the title role. Unfortunately, this talented actress fails to galvanize the lengthy proceedings, making the play feel longer than it is. And at nearly three talk-filled hours, it's already very long."
Frank Scheck for Hollywood Reporter
"“There is something about the girl,” say several characters over the course of George Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan, now receiving a smart, stylish and engaging Broadway revival by the Manhattan Theatre Club. They’re referring, of course, to Joan of Arc, the self-possessed country maid of Lorraine, on a mission to save France in the 15th century and fulfill her holy destiny. But they could also be talking about the actress who portrays her. Playing a part that is as daunting as it is dazzling, Condola Rashad steps into the starring role in a blaze of glory and claims it as her own."
Frank Rizzo for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...