by George Bernard Shaw
April 9-May 1
By Ed Farolan
George Bernard Shaw who claimed to be an atheist, wrote this play at the request and encouragement of his wife. Despite being a non-believer, Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton said of him: "George Bernard Shaw is one of the first people I expect to see when I get to heaven." Producer Paul Muir, whose life long dream was to produce this play, says that Shaw "has achieved a script that deals with the intellectual arguments surrounding Joan's life and death, without losing the passion and conviction that is Saint Joan".
Joan of Arc (1412?-1431), known as Jeanne la Pucelle (Joan the Maid) was a peasant girl from a rural town near Nancy, France who never learned how to read and write. She grew up a devout catholic under the influence of her deeply religious mother. By the age of 13, she had religious visions and heard voices of saints, "in the wind of the fields in the tolling of the bells" which persuaded her that she was chosen by God to help King Charles VII of France to drive the English from French soil. At age 17, in 1429, she fulfilled her mission by capturing Orleans from the English, and crowning Charles in the cathedral in Reims.
Joan wanted to go on to capture Paris from the English, but she was wounded and captured by the Burgundians at Compiegne. She was tried for heresy by a tribunal of French clergy sympathetic to the English, and burned at stake in Rouen on May 30, 1431. Pope Pius X beatified her in 1909, and in 1920, Pope Benedict XV declared her a saint. Her feast day is May30th, the day of her execution.
This historical drama was well written by Shaw who, in his wittingly satrical style, always takes pokes on English society. When the Chaplain de Stogumber comments that the difference between the English definition of treason means betrayal for the French, but for the English, it means "going against the interests of the English", he is clearly taking a stab here.
The company of actors who played multiple roles did an excellent job in this 3-hour show that held the audience's interest from beginning to end--Cassandra Burt , John Destrey, Richard Fellbaum, Anthony F. Ingram, Ari Solomon, Kevin Spenst, Katherine Venour, Christopher Weddell, and Raugi Yu. Special mention to seasoned stage, screen and TV actor John Destrey (Archbishop of Rheims, Chaplain de Stogumber) for the clarity and intensity of his portrayal in both these roles, and Katherine Venour (Joan of Arc) for her all too human and down-to-earth portrayal of the French saint.
The Production Team did a good job with sets, lights and choreography. I was a bit bothered, though, with the costume design which seemed inconsistent. Some of the actors were wearing what seemed to be World War I uniforms, while Joan's costume seemed closer to the medieval motif.
I think this production should be a must see for students of history, particularly Christian history. It is informative, and could provide students a jumping board for debate on this controversial saint. It also gives us an insight on medieval politics, especially the influence of the Roman Catholic Church on affairs of state during that dark age of history.
One last note: in the epilogue, the playwright, through Joan, asks when we will be ready and able to receive saints. I think Shaw's question has already been answered as we prepare for the new millenium and a spiritual renaissance not only in the Catholic Church, but in all of Christianity.