Quintessence Theatre Group, known for offering the “performance and adaptation of epic works of classic literature and drama for the contemporary stage”, delivers George Bernard Shaw’s SAINT JOAN, directed by Rebecca Wright, accordingly. Crafted a few years after Joan of Arc’s canonization in 1920 using research into her life and actual documents from her trial, Shaw’s tragedy is brought to the audience at the historic Sedgwick Theatre in an invigorating new mien. It is, essentially, the same play that premiered at the now demolished Garrick Theatre in NYC in 1923-24, but by incorporating non-traditional trappings Quintessence issues an uncommon audience experience.
Performed on a a fabulously lighted set atop a raked, black box stage, which bisects the house seating, and featuring few props and boldly colored costumes in patterns that pop, this SAINT JOAN is arrayed in rich tonalities consisting of color, light, positioning, and sound. It is wide awake.
Eleven eloquent actors, some playing multiple roles, bring new vitality to the often told story of the farm maiden from France. A teenager, Joan of Arc, also known as “The Maid”, challenged authority, took on the role of a soldier against the law of the times, and galvanized a nation against formidable odds. She embodied rising sea changes that would affect the Western world for some time to come. Shaw’s play includes depiction of the political machinations and tactics behind the ultimate capture by the English, and conviction and consequent sentencing of the french heroine, some of which still ring familiar.
Leigha Kato, of an age with Joan circa 1429-1431, gives a vibrant rendition of the young martyr, exuding plenty of energy towards her charge. John Basiulis’s stoic delivery of The Archbishop of Rheims, and The Inquisitor in particular, is impressive, as is the terrific physicality and keen expression Alan Brincks lends to the different roles of Dunois (The Bastard) and Brother Martin Ladvenu. Also doubling their talents are Sean Close, as Robert de Baudricourt and John de Stogumber; Josh Carpenter, rendering both Bluebeard and the Earl of Warwick, and Tom Carman, as Bertrand de Poulengey and Canon John D’Estivet. Gregory Isaac excels in his fiery portrayal of Monseigneur de la Trémouille, then switches to a stalwart Peter Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais, with equal ease, as does Aaron Kirkpatrick between his enthusiastic rendering of Captain La Hire, and the somber Executioner. Anita Holland gives gusto to an assortment of characters, including Canon de Courcelles, adorning the show with some wonderfully comedic moments. Andrew Betz imbues The Dauphin with a razor-like tongue, lashing out his view of what is real as he sees fit. Ife Foy exudes warmth and charm as the English Soldier, throughout the Epilogue. Movement upon the stage, given space parameters, is remarkably well coordinated. In various scenes the positions of the actors resembled chess moves, while in others the actors were highly physical.
Swirled in fog for every scene except scene vi when Joan is being tried for heresy, the customized set (Alexander Burns) takes on a surreal aspect, especially under the florescents which are part of a spectacular lighting design (Brian Sidney Bembridge). Well-placed sound (Adriano Shaplin) enhances mood, enriching and complementing scenes. Daringly designed costumes (Nikki Delhomme) stand out against the black stage. The technical feats displayed in SAINT JOAN are worthy of applause, along with the actors, and production people.
[The Sedgwick Theater, 7137 Germantown Avenue] March 16-May 1, 2016; quintessencetheatre.org.
SAINT JOAN is being performed in repertory with Christopher Marlowe’s DOCTOR FAUSTUS.