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A CurtainUp Review
Saint Joan

"I hear voices telling me what to do. They come from God.— Joan
Saint joan
George Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan was first produced in 1923 at the Garrick Theatre on Broadway (interestingly three months before its London opening at the New Theatre). This was just three years after the French heroine and martyr was canonized. But despite the eloquent words Shaw puts in the mouth of the Maid or Orleans, in this play Joan remains a country girl on a great adventure. If Joan is led by heavenly voices, both her goal and the method she uses to achieve it are certainly down to earth.

Nevertheless, there is little that can be more tragic than the death of a 19-year-old girl following her conscience, and some of the very best actresses have had the good fortune to play the part, either in film or onstage: Katherine Cornell, Uta Hagen, Lynn Redgrave, Joan Seberg, to name a few. Nor has the play lacked for productions. As recently as 2007 it was staged at the National Theatre in London.( Curtainup Review)

However, in our times nothing is sacred, not even a GBS classic about a heroine and a saint. Bedlam's production directed by Eric Tucker, takes the play and stands it on it head. It is to the company's credit that it does not decapitate the work in the process. But it is not clear what Bedlam has added to the basic features.

The cast consists of four actors. Actor # 1 (Tucker) plays Dunois and other. Actor #2 (Andrus Nichols) plays Joan. Actor #3 (Edmund Lewis) plays the Dauphin, John de Stogumber and others. Actor #4 (Tom O'Keefe) plays Cauchon, Poulengey and others. It's unfortunate that all those "and others" were not specified in the program, which would have made following the action of the play much easier, especially since the same actor sometimes plays different parts in the same scene.

The first act is the most traditionally staged. But there are two intermissions in this 3-hour production. And during both intermissions the audience is asked to gather up its belongings and vacate the house, something of an inconvenience as the rest rooms are located behind the stage. While the audience waits in the lobby, the configuration of the stage and house is changed.

In the second act, the actors are at a table on a platform in the middle of the house. Some even sit next to people in the audience. One actor gives a member of the audience his hat to hold. In the third act, Joan is onstage, seated on a chair placed on a table, while her interrogators are disembodied voices from the audience.

There is no attempt at period costuming (a motorcycle helmet indicates armor). But it's evident that clothing plays an important role here. In fact, actors sometimes strip off clothing on stage when they are becoming someone else.

Is Tucker telling us that his is a small, not very well funded company, and he is doing its best? Is he thumbing his nose at better financed productions? Is he determined to break the fourth wall for artistic or thematic ends? Or is he just trying to enliven an old play?

Bedlam is a company that prides itself on creating theater "in a flexible, raw space," producing "contemporary reappraisals of the classics," and bringing "the audience into direct contact with the dangers and delicacies of life." This is heady stuff, but it could define any number of edgy young groups.

All the smoke and mirrors aside, there is some really terrific acting here. Nichols is particularly wonderful as Joan, an innocent creature who grows and matures into the larger-than-life figure she was destined to become. Lewis is both funny and sympathetic as the timid Dauphin, who only wants to be left alone to enjoy himself in his own way. Tucker and O'Keefe are riveting in their various roles.

There is something joyously original in this production. Still, this Saint Joan seems much more about Bedlam than about Shaw. Whether or not this is a good thing is a question members of the audience must answer for themselves.

Editor's Note: Saint Joan is running in repertory with a similarly cast Hamlet. Both plays began life last year and are being reprised this season. To read last season's review of the Shakespeare by Deirdre Donovan to here.

Saint Joan
By George Bernard Shaw
Directed by Eric Tucker
Cast: Eric Tucker (Actor #1), Andrus Nichols (Actor #2), Edmund Lewis (Actor #3), Tom O'Keefe (Actor #4)
Scenic Design: John McDermott
Lighting Design: Les Dickert
Fight Choreographer: Trampas Thompson
Stage Manager: Katharine Whitney
Running Time: 3 hours with 2 intermissions
Lynn Redgrave Theatre in NYC (formerly the 45 Bleecker Street Theatre), 866-811-4111
From 11/8/13; opening 11/14/13; open ended run
Playing in repertory with Hamlet. Check website for dates: theatrebedlam.org
Tickets: $25 - $99
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Nov. 14, 2013
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Saint Joan
Saint Joan - There is something joyously original in this production. Still, this Saint Joan seems much more about Bedlam than about Shaw. Whether or not this is a good thing is a question members of the audience must answer for themselves.. . . Read More