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A CurtainUp Review
The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc

by Les Gutman

South Side Cafe in the Theater District

He who allows things to be done is like him who orders them to be done. It is all one. It is worse than him who does them. Because he who does shows courage, at least, in doing. He who commits a crime has at least the courage to commit it.And when you allow the crime to be committed, you have the same crime, and cowardice to boot.
Sophia Skiles
S. Skiles (Photo: Paula Court)

Kierkegaard, to whom Charles Péguy no doubt owed some debt, said that the self is "a relation which relates itself to itself". In The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc, we find a young Joan of Arc (Sophia Skiles) engaged in an existential struggle, with her self, her faith and the relation between the two. These play out alone, in conversation with a young, less thought-burdened contemporary, Hauviette (Jerusha Klemperer), and in a dialectic with a holy woman, Madame Gervaise (Daphne Gaines). They are, we are asked to believe at least, the tribulations of Joan of Arc, the foundations for the more familiar religious figure to come.

Péguy's lyrical work, here in a largely unfussy translation by Julian Green, overflows with words as it compresses Joan's spiritual anxiety into an economical but full seventy minutes. (Written almost a century ago, this is the play's American premiere.) David Herksovits wisely focuses the three fine actors on the language. Those familiar with the playful aesthetic which usually infuses his work may be surprised to discover it is largely absent here.

Regardless of the extent to which one is bowled over by the play's religious aspects, the play's context couldn't raise questions of greater currency. For young Jeanette finds herself confronted by war, its effects and its seeming irreconcilability:
For every wounded man we happen to look after, for every child we feed, indefatigable war makes hundreds of wounded, of sick and homeless people, every day. All our efforts are in vain. War has more power than anything when it comes to making people suffer. Ah, a curse on war!


Those who kill lose their souls because they kill. And those who are killed lose their souls because they are killed.

The three women in this cast are up to the challenges presented. There is a genuineness in Sophia Skiles' Jeanette that filters her passion and anguish through the lens of a young woman, "different" no doubt, who is seeking her own inexplicable truths. Daphne Gaines is skillful in guiding her, yet neither character is permitted to convey the sort of earnestness that would quickly render the text overwrought. Jerusha Klemperer operates in a lighter vein, with flashes of contemporary sensibilities, but her counterpoint is never jolting.

Lenore Doxsee has a large canvas in Here's mainstage theater. She has chosen to suggest both the vastness of the world and the intimacy of one's personal view of it in a particularly striking way. A spinning wheel becomes the focal point. Mark Barton's lighting, mostly achieved indirectly, is exceptionally supportive, and David Zinn's costumes also work quite well in establishing the characters.

The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc
by Charles Péguy, translated by Julian Green
Directed by David Herskovits
with Daphne Gaines, Jerusha Klemperer and Sophia Skiles
Set Design: Lenore Doxsee
Lighting Design: Mark Barton
Costume Design: David Zinn
Sound Design: Tim Schellenbaum
Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes with no intermission
A production of Target Margin Theater
Here Arts Center, 145 Avenue of the Americas (Spring/Dominick)
Telephone (212) 868-4444
WED - SAT @8:30pm, SAT - SUN @4, additional performance June 1 @7; $20
Opening May 12, 2004, closes June 5, 2004
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 5/8/04 performance
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