‘Saint Joan’ Delivers A Compelling Account of Joan of Arc
But 2nd Story, under the direction of Ed Shea, has managed to breathe life into it and create a pretty compelling evening of theater, thanks in large part to Valerie Westgate’s winning performance as Joan.by Channing Gray, Providence Journal
The folks at Warren’s 2nd Story Theatre have been busy, mounting three shows this month alone. And the latest effort, which opened Monday in the upstairs theater, is a solid production of George Bernard Shaw’s “Saint Joan,” a somewhat long-winded account of the life and trial of Joan of Arc.
The play makes its point early on: Joan, a simple peasant girl who hears voices, just might be a witch or a heretic, at the very least. She believes that God speaks directly to her, and that she has no need for the church. This does not win her points with her English captors, and as most schoolchildren know, Joan’s career as the savior of France does not end well.
The play, divided into six scenes with an epilogue, opens with Robert de Baudricourt fuming that his prize hens are not laying eggs. Joan appears and tells him that her voices say she should lay siege against Orleans and that she needs several men for the battle.
De Baudricourt ridicules Joan and her talk about crowning the Dauphin. But when she leaves, the hens are laying, and de Baudricourt takes that as a sign from God.
Joan then talks her way into the court of the vain Dauphin, telling him her voices have commanded her to help install him as the king of France and drive out the English occupiers, which she does, thanks to her skills on the battlefield.
But our heroine is betrayed and captured by the English, who insist she be burned at the stake.
In the epilogue, Joan comes back as a ghost 25 years after her execution, when a new trial has cleared her of heresy. An emissary from the present day appears and tells Joan that she’s up for sainthood.
In the wrong hands, this show could very well turn out to be a tedious history lesson. But 2nd Story, under the direction of Ed Shea, has managed to breathe life into it and create a pretty compelling evening of theater, thanks in large part to Valerie Westgate’s winning performance as Joan.
There is something very wise about her Joan, but at the same time she’s still just a simple farm girl who believes God is directing her actions. She’s at once this innocent child and a skilled leader and king-maker who seems far from possessed.
The play has a huge cast, but there are a few roles besides Westgate’s that stand out, including Kevin Broccoli’s Inquisitor, who admonishes the court to stick to the heresy charges and not bother with the issue of Joan wearing men’s clothes or dancing around haunted wells. Half the girls in France are guilty of that, says the Inquisitor.
Shea, the director, stood in opening night for an ailing Tom O’Donnell as Warwick, an unbending sort who calls for Joan’s execution. Shea doesn’t step on stage very often, but when he does he’s masterful, even in small role such as this.
And Rico Lanni makes a foppish Dauphin.
But among the most impressive things about the show is Trevor Elliott’s imposing set made of rows of pillars that form the interior of a Gothic church.