Saint Joan is George Bernard Shaw’s version of the rise and fall of Joan of Arc. Joan was an illiterate, teenage farm girl in 15th Century France who claimed to hear voices. God’s word was passed to her through Saint Catherine’s and Saint Margaret’s voices which directed her to lead the army of France against the British. She was successful on the battlefield, but ran into trouble when faced with political resistance from the church and the nobles in power.
BEDLAM Theatre utilizes a quartet of actors who portray this story in an imaginative way. They are committed to creating an intimate relationship between the actors and the audience. They include the audience in their storytelling by using all of the theater space surrounding them in a flexible capacity. For example, they sit in empty chairs in the audience while reciting dialogue, walk in the aisles, and have direct contact by pointing out various members of the audience or having the actors turn their heads and wink at the audience, as if they’re included in an inside joke.
Eric Tucker (who also directs), Tom O’Keefe, and Ted Lewis, are the 3 male actors, who juggle multiple roles skillfully. Through Eric Tuckers’ direction the actors smoothly transition between multiple characters in one scene. This transition between these characters is signaled by mannerisms, uses of props, and voice. (i.e. wearing a pair of glasses or having a British accent. They bring depth to the characters using their expressions and the words showcasing the actors’ individual range.
I found Ted Lewis to be the more facially expressive actor, while Eric Tucker held everyone’s audience attention with his powerful intensity during his speeches. Ted Lewis delivered an outstanding portrayal of the Dauphin, representing him as someone who was passive, shy, and lacked self-confidence all by his tone of voice. He had great chemistry in his scenes with Joan, and his character does become more self-confident and regal by the end because of her influence. Tom O’Keefe was the smoothest with his transitions between portraying multiple characters in a scene by the use of his body. He would nervously clutch at his shirt collar when being a bishop unsure of Joan’s resolve. He would stoop in his posture when playing a soldier or lesser clergy.
The center of the production is Joan herself, played charismatically by Andrus Nichols. She starts with Joan having an energetic, teenage, naïve enthusiasm about going to battle to the final astonishment at her fate. The final death scene is heart-wrenching. There have been many interpretations of Joan, and Shaw’s version has her as “the maid,” a woman who is a bit eccentric who becomes a martyr. Andrus Nichols captures the spirit of this teenager who matures over a short period of time, while always maintaining her steadfast belief in her faith.
The BEDLAM production makes efficient use of its minimalist stage design and costuming. The stage is bare except for two chairs (one with France written on it) and a Renaissance painting hung by string in the corner (which is also used as a window) in Act One. In Act Two, a long table and two chairs are used. The lighting by Marc Hurst is also kept simple. Most of the time, the lighting is bright, except in the scenes denoting the battlefield, where it was half-dimmed. In Act 3, the trial has Joan sitting on a chair center stage with two small tripod light stands pointed at her. The costumes are also minimal, with modern clothing, but in layers. The actors layered & delayered as necessary in various scenes for the different characters. (i.e. Vests, ties, jackets, sweaters, etc.)
BEDLAM’s Saint Joan is a low key, creative, unpretentious version of Shaw’s play.
It is a powerful portrayal of a historical figure, proving why her legacy has been preserved. Bedlam makes it easy to become involved and entertained, even though we already know the outcome.
Running Time: Approximately three hours, with two intermissions.
St. Joan plays in repertory through October 20, 2013 in the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab at Olney Theatre Center—2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road in Olney, MD. For tickets call (301) 924-3400, or purchase them online.