By Jean Anouilh, adapted by Lillian Hellman
Directed by Dr. Donald Seay
Starring Courtney Moores, Kyle Adkins, and Mark Brotherton
UCF Conservatory Theatre, Orlando Fl
Great sets, great costumes, and great acting weren’t enough of a miracle to redeem this wordy and exposition laden retelling of Joan of Arc’s story. At 12, Joan (Moores) saw visions and received a message from St. Michael to drive the English out of France and restore the French Monarchy. A heady assignment for an uneducated farm girl born I the ruins of the Hundred Years War, but she impressed Robert De Beaudricourt (Andrew Clateman) and scatterbrained Charles VII (Chris Longfield Smith), lead the army to some surprising victories, and kicked butt on the English. Charles was crowned; France was saved, but she was captured, sold to the English and tried for heresy. The trial brackets her story on stage, and there lies the weakness of this play.
Joan’s heresy is really a political accusation, necessary for the English to attack Charles. Like many medieval trials, it’s populated by some very unpleasant church figures and giving the accused a reasonable chance at self defense is considered working for the devil. There’s an Inquisitor (Carlos Aviles), dressed in very natty red and black velvet, who yells most of his lines and assumes he alone may interpret Gods will. Even nastier is the cleric in Green (Peter Cortelli) who snaps knotty theological questions at Joan, and any answer including silence is dismissed as witchcraft. It takes monkish Cauchon (Brotherton) to actually show her some Christian charity, but even a complete confession and technical acceptance back into Catholicism results in a miserable prison sentence. Joan’s early life involves a brutal father (Robert Aronowitz). He nearly beats her to death in a very disturbing scene of country life where women rank as property, treated with less respect than a horse would receive.
There are some fun scenes, fortunately. Joan’s first contact with nobility occurs when she talks Robert de Beaudricourt (Andrew Clateman) out of a horse and some soldiers. He’s interested in a quickie, but dense enough to fall for her flattery and thus propels her on the way, making Joan’s journey to the Kings Court sound like his own idea. Clateman wields his loopy persona like an epee, and I’m so happy they didn’t make him one of the endless priests. Later, when Joan reaches the court, the semi-official Charles plays with toys while his advisors The Archbishop (J. Scott Browning) and Mssr. De La Tremouille (Trent Fucci) boss him around. His wife and mistress and mother in law flit about annoying both him and the audience, and it’s in everyone’s best interest that he be weak and will less – there’s not much left of France, but they plan to consume it while they can.
Battles are only alluded to, and the second act drags us through the kangaroo court of the church with endless titles, preambles, hard-to-grasp theological principles, and the clear abandonment of Joan by everyone she helped. There’s a real effort to stay reasonable true to the history books here, but that’s not a good thing – rather than feeling the triumph of the underdog, you get a full serving of legal minutia and a sparse cut of drama.
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