BWW Review: Bedlam's SAINT JOAN Is Candid And Fresh At Stark Naked Theatre

Stephan Wolfert and Samantha Steinmetz

Bedlam Theatre and Stark Naked Theatre Company seem like creative cousins. New York-based Bedlam has been heralded for its creative revivals and unconventional artistic spin on theatre. Houston's Stark Naked is well-known for producing eye-opening, candid theatre in unexpected ways. They seem to have the same theatrical vision, and with Bedlam's production of George Bernard Shaw's SAINT JOAN, hosted by Stark Naked Theatre, it's clear that that vision grabs audiences.

When co-founders of Stark Naked Theatre, Kim Tobin-Lehl and Phillip Lehl, caught the production in New York it resonated with them so much that they brought the company to Houston. Lucky us. The show is a fresh experience with a rather old play (Saint Joan was first produced in 1923) and Bedlam's incarnation feels very 21st century. While Shaw's words are pure poetry, reminiscent of Shakespeare, the spare set and costumes and the ingenuous scene progressions read modern and relevant for today.

Our infamous heroine, Joan of Arc, otherwise known as "the maid of Orleáns", claims to hear the voice of God telling her to lead the armies of France to victory against the English. This does not sit well with the Catholic church and after much travail, debate, and accusation young Joan is burned at the stake.

Stephan Wolfert, John Russell, and Spencer Aste

Inspired directer Eric Tucker keeps the story hopping with crackling interactions between characters and a riveting cast. Samantha Steinmetz deserves high praise for her performance in a highly challenging role. She somehow balances the youthful exuberance of a teenager with the doggedness of a determined, courageous visionary. Steinmetz performance is especially moving at the climax of the play when she realizes that no matter what she chooses to do she will never be free. Spencer Aste, John Russell, and Stephan Wolfert play multiple supporting roles, making for a strong chain of performances throughout the show. There are a couple of times when it gets a little confusing with actors hopping in and out of different characters, but generally it works. SAINT JOAN is a mix of humor, tragedy, and drama, and Bedlam's production often feels like the best kind of improv, too. A traveling audience and altered stage configurations make the show especially riveting and one-of-a-kind.

There are many themes running throughout SAINT JOAN, not the least of which is faith in our own convictions. In the show, a priest declares, "A miracle is an event which creates faith." Maybe, but Joan may beg to differ. Her faith preceded miracles. Joan says, "It is God's business we are here to do and not our own." With that conviction in mind she lead the French to victory. Unfortunately her convictions also led to her murder.

SAINT JOAN is not to be missed by theatre enthusiasts. Get your tickets now.

Performances are scheduled for June 2-18 at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and June 13 (pay-what-you-can); 3 p.m. Sundays. June 8-18. Studio 101, Spring Street Studios, 1824 Spring Street. For information, call 832-786-1849.

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Photo Credits: Gabriella Nissen

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From This Author Jenny Taylor Moodie