For Mother's Day this year, my family joined me in a visit to Woldumar to see St. Joan, walk the nature trails and enjoy the beautiful weather we had this past Sunday.
St. Joan is being performed by Sunsets with Shakespeare and directed by Mark Zussman.
I think the play was made all the more enjoyable by the fact that my 9-year-old son joined me. The experience became as much about the historical exposition as the dramatic presentation. The elements that became the most memorable and meaningful to me were watching as my son wept at Joan's death and the discussions we had about the play afterward. Both those things are intensely personal reactions that have little to do with any sort of professional analysis or critique of the show.
Yet, art is personal. Art is all about the response it elicits--whether it is a response in the artist or the audience is a point that has been debated through the ages and isn't any closer to a resolution now than it was centuries ago.
The version of St. Joan that Sunsets is producing is a shortened version, one that sticks slavishly to the main story, eliminating the extraneous political sublines. In some ways, it makes for an almost too-quick production as the historical context is hit upon so lightly. For people who are already conversant with feudalism and the political beliefs of the time, its easy to fill in the blanks. Everyone else need pay close attention and be willing to ask questions afterward.
Nor is this a subtle production as much has to be said in a small amount of time. There are times when the actors get a little too big with their lines but that is definitely the exception. For most of the play, I was drawn into the story and eager to see how Joan would manage to win over men accustomed to ignoring anyone not of their class ranking or gender. The characters themselves are big--kings, lords, bishops, and princes. With the exception of the Dauphin who wants little to do with his royalty and everything to do with his personal indulgences, the characters are their titles far more than they are individual people. They carry on their shoulders a mantle of responsibility which they never forget.
Joan was particularly interesting to watch for her quirks. She had a confidence that won people over, but she also had a skittishness born of an overflowing impatience. She very early foreshadowed her fall as she was oblivious to the world around her and its dangers. Nor did she ever truly connect with anyone, which also made it impossible for any of them to save her.
On an acting note, it was enjoyable to watch those characters with more than one role as all of them did great job of differentiating those characters.
While this play has a very historical feel to it (the excellent costumes contribute to that feel), it does raise interesting questions: Would we still prosecute someone of pure faith and conviction who pursues her convictions in the political or military realm? Would we later saint them? How much do we still use religion as the stick to silence our political enemies? Why do we consider that the moral high ground rather than simply acknowledging the political necessities?