Salvation by faith

France's deliverer is an unlikely teenager in St. Joan  
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  January 19, 2006

TEEN QUEST: Saint Joan gives valuable performance at the Children's Theatre.“A miracle,” says the Archbishop of Rheims, is simply “any event that creates faith.” Miracles are subjective, and it’s in this tenuous currency that strident young Joan d’Arc traffics, as she wins and finally loses her countrymen’s hearts and minds. In George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan, a portrait of the teenage martyr produced by the Children’s Theatre of Maine, under the direction of Pamela DiPasquale, Joan’s own faith is both her salvation and her liability.

Fifteenth-century France is overrun by English soldiers, and Joan (Rita Brandt-Meyer) hears voices that provide astoundingly sound tactical instruction on how she and the French army can get rid of them. First, though, she must get through to France’s military and religious bigwigs — costumed, by DiPasquale, in post-modern fashion, in garb from a range of eras and cultures — and it’s here that those faith-creating events come in handy.

The pale, slim Brandt-Meyer has a good grasp of Joan’s contrasts, and is at once ethereal and plucky. Her Joan carries an air of beatitude about her, but is also exasperatingly, dangerously presumptuous — think Tracy Flick orchestrating French armies instead of a school election. She also manages, sometimes, to seem very old as well as very young, and when the ferocity of Joan’s faith renders her red-faced and rabid, she somehow transcends age altogether.

The rest of the cast does well in expressing everyone’s inevitable ambivalence about Joan’s fierce absolutism. John Hickson as the Archbishop and Mark Young as Joan’s Inquisitor are particularly eloquent in negotiating their characters’ dual sympathy and affront, and Sebastian Ascanio provides some comic relief as the petulant and fickle King Charles. There’s a lot of outrage in this play — of the clergy, appalled at Joan’s pride; of the military, incensed that the clergy won’t turn Joan over to them straightaway for burning; and of Joan, incredulous at the narrowness of a world that doesn’t hear voices. All this anger is manifested in a fair amount of yelling; DiPasquale’s direction is often most effective when she brings it down to hisses, glares, and silent anguish.

Saint Joan is CTM’s yearly offering to a slightly older audience, and is suggested for viewers aged 12 and up. While nothing overly graphic happens on this set (which is well-designed with back-lit Gothic doorways and, above, a faux-stained-glass depiction of a martyr) the themes that play out are thick and tricky. Saint Joan raises a number of questions that young people and families might share about the nature of faith — in our gods, our fellow people, and ourselves — and considers both its value and its costs.

Saint Joan, by George Bernard Shaw | directed by Pamela DiPasquale | produced by the Children’s Theatre of Maine | through January 29 | 207.828.0617

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Megan Grumbling: mgrumbling@hotmail.com

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