“Saint Joan” (ShawChicago): Robust Storytelling

ShawChicago presents SAINT JOAN.

There are no villains in the piece. Crime, like disease, is not interesting: it is something to be done away with by general consent, and that is all [there is] about it. It is what men do at their best, with good intentions, and what normal men and women find that they must and will do in spite of their intentions, that really concern us. – GBS

This reading is huge.  The cast, the script, the themes are robust.  Playwright George Bernard Shaw examines the rise and fall of Joan of Arc.  In his play development, GBS used the actual trial transcripts to piece together a reenactment of the martyr’s life.  GBS masterfully argues the saint’s abilities from every angle. He represents Joan as a charismatic and confident girl.  He shows how her natural abilities and fervent belief in God inspired others to follow her lead.  In the second act, he flips it over.  GBS perfectly depicts the historical figures’ convictions from their different religious, political, classist and male perspectives.  And he does it without malice and with plenty of wit.

Director Robert Scogin undertakes this mammoth play for ShawChicago’s traditional public reading.  He effectively uses a dozen actors for nineteen parts.  And he decides to shave off the epilogue to get the performance under three hours.  In the lead, Jhenai Mootz (Joan) radiates her unquestioning belief in Divinity guidance.  Especially in Act 1, the outstanding Mootz is unflappable in her persuasive powers.  She believes so strongly.  We believe in her.  Scenes end with a warrior cry for “The Maiden.”  The French army and this Chicago audience get caught up in the Joan hoopla a la Mootz.  From that battle high, it’s a heartbreaking low to see a zealous Mootz crumble under inquisition.

In ShawChicago’s signature style, the ensemble is top-notch.  Deliveries of long-winded beliefs are peppered with personality.  Under Scogin’s direction, each character personifies an unwavering belief that his actions are for the greater good.  Whether the belief stems from religious or political aspirations, each actor ardently stays true to their persona.  This is best illustrated in a scene between Doug Mackechnie (Earl of Warwick), Richard Marlatt (Chaplain de Stogumber) and Matt Penn (Bishop of Beauvais).  A lifelong soldier Mackechnie emotionlessly tries to recruit the elegant Penn in his scheme to capture and burn Joan at the stake.  Mackechnie states the execution as the only option.  A droll Penn argues for Joan’s soul.  Meanwhile an animated Marlatt continually and hilariously interjects his bias that the English are superior.  We see Joan’s fame through the eyes of her supporters and persecutors… which often are the same people.

SAINT JOAN is thought to be GBS’ masterpiece.  I would concur.  This is a history lesson without prejudice.  GBS tells the story from multiple perspectives.  The different angles makes for a powerful biographical depiction.

Running Time:  Two hours and fifty minutes includes an intermission

At Ruth Page Theatre, 1016 N. Dearborn

Written by George Bernard Shaw

Directed by Robert Scogin

Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm

Monday, February 10th  at 2pm

Mondays, February 17th and 24th at 7pm

Thru February 24th

Buy Tickets at www.shawchicago.org

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