By Tulis McCall
As I left the Public Theater after seeing Joan of Arc: Into The Fire, what was on my mind was not this production but George Bernard Shaw’s play, Saint Joan. I had a craving for a play that would satisfy not only my curiosity about Joan, but my need for a well thought out story. David Byrne’s Joan is heavy on rock music and light on story.
Like his previously produced Here Lies Love, which I did not see, Byrne has created a theatrical event. For Marcos he created a disco, for Joan he has created a rock concert. It is Joan (Jo Lampert) and the Boys up until the very end when Joan’s mother (Mare Winningham) pops out for her 15 seconds of fame and pleads for her daughter’s memory.
We follow Joan as if she were a bouncing ball of yesteryear’s sing-a-long short movies. Event follows event follows event until there are no more because Joan is no more. At age 16 she watches her village burned down by the occupying (for some 80 years) British. This is followed by her vision during which she receives instructions to hi-tail it to the uncrowned Dauphin (Kyle Selig). She is granted permission to fight, and she does, turning into a raging soldier like her men. They win the battle at Orleans and the Dauphin is crowned King Charles in Rouen. About a nanno-second after that, the newly minted King pulls the plug on Joan’s crusade because he has pretty much concluded it is better to be a living King ruling a sliver of France, than a dead one who never got a chance to rule the whole megillah.
Joan carries on anyway and is captured by the British. They ask France for a ransom, which is denied, and Joan is thrown under the bus. When girls get pushy, the Big Guy has to do what he has to do. Left with Joan on their hands, English know they have a PR pileup front and center, and they do their best to get Joan to recant her tale of being God’s messenger. When she does, they toss her back into jail instead of releasing her as they had promised. Joan does not like people lying to her so she recants her recant. Next stop: death by being burned at the stake.
Except for the part where her mother travels to Notre Dame to request a re-trial that will send Joan to Heaven. Or something like that.
The story rolls out like explosions from an automatic weapon in first gear. One event after another is delivered with volume and a myriad of special effects – strobe lights and smoke and did I see a disco ball? There is little differentiating between the moments. There is no story. There is no, you should pardon the expression, ARC.
Joan is relentless from start to finish. That is as much as this music and minimal text will allow her. One action. The cast is a banquet of talent, all of which is hemmed in like tigers in a cage. There is a story in here somewhere, but it never sees the light of day.
On the other hand, who is to say that Shaw’s Saint Joan is any better at telling the truth? I am about to find out. Got a date with Joan and Mr.Shaw.
JOAN OF ARC: INTO THE FIRE – Book, Music, and Lyrics by David Byrne; Choreography by Steven Hoggett; Directed by Alex Timbers
Featuring Terence Archie (Warwick); James Brown III (Priest, Judge); Jonathan Burke (Priest, Judge); Rodrick Covington (Priest, Judge); Sean Allan Krill (Bishop Cauchon); Jo Lampert (Joan); Mike McGowan (La Tremouille); Dimitri Joseph Moïse (Swing); Mary Kate Morrissey (Standby for Joan, Isabelle); Adam Perry (Priest, Judge); John Schiappa (Priest, Judge); Kyle Selig (Dauphin, King Charles); Michael James Shaw(Baudricourt); and Mare Winningham (Isabelle)
Scenic Design by Christopher Barreca; Costume Design by Clint Ramos; Lighting Design by Justin Townsend; Sound Design by Cody Spencer; Projection Design by Darrel Maloney; Special Effects Design by Jeremy Chernick; Wigs, Hair & Make-up Design by Dave Bova & J. Jared Janas; Orchestrations and Arrangements by David Byrne; Additional Orchestrations and Arrangements by Kris Kukul; Music Director: Kris Kukul
Public Theater (Artistic Director, Oskar Eustis; Executive Director, Patrick Willingham)JOAN OF ARC: INTO THE FIRE has been extended twice to Sunday, April 30. Public Theater Member and Partner tickets, as well as single tickets starting at $120, can be accessed now by calling (212) 967-7555, www.publictheater.org, or in person at the Taub Box Office at The Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street. The performance schedule is Tuesday through Sunday at 8:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. There is an added performance on Wednesday, April 5 at 1:30 p.m. (There is no 8:30 p.m. performance on Sunday, April 9.) The Library at The Public is open nightly for food and drink, beginning at 5:30 p.m., and Joe’s Pub at The Public continues to offer some of the best music in the city. For more information visit www.publictheater.org