BWW Review: SAINT JOAN Charges in at Fred Stone Theatre
In the center of an entirely black room is a woman in white, kneeling in prayer, her head encircled with long blonde tendrils. As the audience loads in to this space, Theresa Hanson (Joan) continues to pray until 8:00, when the rest of the cast enters the space and the show begins. Hanson has a strength of presence that anchors the rest of the show: I found myself constantly looking back to her, even when the scene starred other players. This is not, however, a loss for the rest of the cast. It is a rare production that manages to have a largely talented cast that both perform strongly as individuals and in groups. I could wax poetic about several more of the individual actors here but would rather just acknowledge them as a whole: the double-cast nature of the production is a workout for any performer and the work they have put in to make each character distinct is both apparent and wildly successful.
Act I takes viewers into the story of young, inspired Joan and her first forays into the execution of the plan she believes God & his Saints have laid out for her. We encounter icons of medieval warfare, French and English alike, that I personally would have never been able to identify without the scripting- due in large part to the fresh take on costuming: this production of Saint Joan features tailored suit jackets, tight chino pants, and crisp dress shoes. Long gone are the robes and sacks of old, with even the religious figures featuring grey and navy suits- the only exception being the French members of the church, who sport more traditional robes in what seems to be an attempt to illustrate the dichotomy between the two. There are more that costumes to be distracted by, however: at one point in the evening, I found myself being crawled over by a young King Charles, eager to watch Joan 'The Maid' in action in his court, which we, the audience, had all suddenly become a part of.
Jumping ahead a few years, Act II takes audiences through the journey of Joan's many battle successes, the crowning of King Charles, and her fame amongst the common folk. At the beginning of this section of Saint Joan is a political conversation so elegant and biting I found myself bouncing my head back and forth to watch the Earl and Bishop go at each other. The staging is particularly interesting here, with each figure on stage acting as a point of a triangle, ensuring that no member of the audience is uninvolved in the drama playing out before them.
Act III illustrates the blaze of glory (pun fully intended) that Joan d'Arc was perhaps known for: being burned at the stake. Rather than attempt to illustrate this bonfire, the show highlights each character's struggle to process their choice and emotion during Joan's execution. This was an incredibly interesting insight, for me, and a nice juxtaposition to the warm, reunion-like ending we wind down the show with.
If you've never had a chance to see the Fred Stone Theatre at Rollins College, seeing Saint Joan is a perfect excuse for a first visit. This minimalistic black box makes for the ultimate transformative space - and rather than filling it up physically, Saint Joan uses flowered language and an intensity that made me completely forget about the open nature of the space. As with any Shaw or Shakespeare production, there are elements of the show that have been stylized to update the piece: in this production, it is Scenic Designer Jamie DeHay's use of neon and strip lighting, which I adored. It gives the piece just the right amount of edginess without distracting from Shaw's dialogue, allowing you to really sink your teeth in and be enveloped by the work.
In short, I highly recommend making your way to Rollins College either this weekend or next to take in Saint Joan. A three-and-a-half-hour run time (which includes two short intermissions) may seem intimidating to non-traditional theatre fans, but Director Jeremy Seghers has crafted an exciting staging of what may otherwise have been a daunting production. Saint Joan is a perfect way to start getting into the upcoming fall season, and runs at Rollins College's Fred Stone Theatre from July 28th-31st & August 3rd-5th. All performances being at 8 p.m, and tickets range from $10-23. For tickets, visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/saint-joan-by-bernard-shaw-tickets-35475677707.
Photo Credit: MatthewMendel.com