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The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc
by Les Gutman
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!
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.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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