Theatre Mirror Reviews - "St. Joan"

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note: entire contents copyright 1996 by Larry Stark


"St. Joan"

by George Bernard Shaw
Directed by Thomas Minchin

Stage Manager Christel Mayer

Robert Baudricourt.......Todd Larson
Steward..............Michael O'Leary
Joan..................Francine Davis
Bertrand de Poulengy...Jeffrey Symes
Archbishop...............Ann Leacock
La Tremouille.........Augustus Kelly
Court Page................Liz Tucker
Bluebeard................David Frank
Captain...................Duane Hess
The Dauphin..........Celeste McClain
Duchess................Nicole Jesson
Dunois................Stephen Turner
Dunois' Page.........Celeste McClain
Earl of Warwick......Michael O'Leary
Chaplain...............Jeffrey Symes
Bishop of Beauvais.....Nicole Jesson
Warwick's Page............Liz Tucker
The Inquisitor...........David Frank
D'Estivet.................Liz Tucker
De Courcelles.........Augustus Kelly
Brother Martin...........Todd Larson
Executioner...............Duane Hess
English Soldier.......Augustus Kelly



Though I've seen Francine Davis play three major roles in Piccadilly Theatre Company productions I have yet to see her wearing a dress onstage. She is currently the mystical soldier of God "St. Joan" in George Bernard Shaw's play, but I have seen her play Cassius in "Julius Caesar" and Shylock in "The Merchant of Venice". Piccadilly's Director, Thomas Minchin, has a unique solution to the double problem of too few good male actors and too few good female parts: he simply casts the best actors that audition --- regardless of gender --- and directs them as though sex were irrelevant. More often than not, it is.

Late in this play, for instance, the Bishop of Beauvais denounces Joan for the heresy of dressing in men's clothes --- yet the Bishop is played by Nicole Jesson, hiding the long hair she showed when doubling in the role of the Duchesse de la Tremouille --- besides Joan the only female part in the play. Celeste McClain plays The Dauphin, whom Joan crowns as King of France, then scoots back on stage as a page. On the distaff, David Frank plays Gilles de Rais (yes, the one who later made the name "Bluebeard" for himself), and returns looking shorter, heavier, and cleaner-shaven as Joan's primary Inquisitor.

The play, on an improvised stage in the big Rockport Art Association, is uneven --- but gender is no predictor of any player's success. Frank's commanding, eloquent Inquisitor upstages his thinly snide Bluebeard; Ann Leacock is solid as the wisely worldly Archbishop of Rheims, while the English political general the Earl of Warwick in Michael O'Leary's hands never becomes a convincingly powerful adversary. In earlier scenes, the self- centered, bickering French court lacks any conviction, whereas they play against one another quite convincingly as they gradually unite against Joan's insistence on continuing her war --- and the best ensemble playing comes in the final epilogue documenting Joan's reputation after death.

Davis as Joan also solidifies throughout the evening, from naively insistent farm-girl to indignant teen-ager ("I'm not opinionated; I never say a word unless I know I'm right!") and sucessful battlefield commander, to solitary defendant deserted by everyone. Her ringing recantation of a confession to heresy, choosing the flames rather than the merely not-dead "life" of permanent prison, is the capstone of her performance and the entire evening.

Just as Director Minchin gets uneven performances from his cast, he has uneven help from the tech crew. The costumes look better than the sets, and much better than the murky lighting, and he habitually sets his cast in a shallow semicircle around someone, back to them, declaiming to the audience down front.

But this may be more a problem with Shaw, who heaps blame for the rise of individualism, nationalism, and Protestantism on Joan's simplistic, teen-aged shoulders. Considering all the intellectual arguments to be considered, the four-hours traffic of their stage goes by quite quickly --- if a little unevenly.

Love,
===Anon

P.S. On opening night, only a minimal program for "St. Joan" was available; thus the sets, sound and lighting designers for this production are mercifully anonymous in this review, as is, unfortunately, whoever acquired the excellent costumes.

PICCADILLY THEATRE COMPANY
at
Rockport Art Association
12 Main Street, ROCKPORT
till 24 November
1(508)546-6604



THE THEATER MIRROR, Boston's LIVE Theater Guide
| MARQUEE | CURTAIN | USHER | INTERMISSION |