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George Bernard Shaw takes the long view in his portrait of teenage resistance.
Theater review by Adam Feldman
Joan of Arc (Condola Rashad) may speak with Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret every day, as she claims, but they do not inhabit her: She is nothing if not self-possessed. George Bernard Shaw wrote Saint Joan in 1923, not long after the teenage warrior was belatedly canonized by the Catholic Church (making amends for having sent her to the stake in 1431), and his portrait of her is sympathetic and admiring. Dressing in men’s clothes and claiming to have a direct line to God are what got Joan silenced by the powers that were; but if she hadn’t done those things, then no one would have heard her in the first place. The atheistic Shaw toys with the idea that Joan actually had divine powers—he depicts events that could be interpreted as miracles—but he’s mostly drawn to her good sense and courage of convictions. She succeeds, for a time, not by supernatural means but because her ideas and leadership prove valuable to the same nobles, commanders and priests who later throw her under the cross.
Ever the great complicator, Shaw devotes much of Saint Joan to exploring the motives and rationales of these other players. Among them are the ineffectual Dauphin (a modernly slack Adam Chanler-Berat), the red-robed Bishop of Beauvais (Walter Bobbie), the worldly Duke of Warwick (Jack Davenport), the gaunt Archbishop of Reims (John Glover), the sturdy military leader Dunois (Daniel Sunjata) and the wily Inquisitor (the wondrously sonorous Patrick Page) who officiates at her trial—and that’s just a partial list. Shaw’s urbane determination to give every man his say shifts the play’s focus from its central girl for long stretches of prolix philosophical and legal badinage; Daniel Sullivan’s baggy, plainly designed revival is nearly three hours long and feels it, right up to Shaw’s quirky and deflating coda. Despite a capable cast, led by a composed and steely-eyed Rashad (and including the excellent Robert Stanton in a trio of small roles), Saint Joan doesn’t rise to meet the contemporary energy of youthful protest with which it coincides. It flickers with intelligence but doesn’t burn.
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (Broadway). By George Bernard Shaw. Directed by Daniel Sullivan. With Condola Rashad. Running time: 2hrs 55mins. One intermission.