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Regional Reviews: Philadelphia

Saint Joan
Quintessence Theatre Group
Review by Rebecca Rendell | Season Schedule

Also see Rebecca's recent reviews of Peter and the Starcatcher and Two Trains Running and Cameron's review of An Octoroon

Leigha Kato and Andrew Betz
Photo by Shawn May
In 1915, Just a few years before George Bernard Shaw wrote Saint Joan in London, Kazimir Malevich painted his iconic Black Square in Petrograd. The painting, simply a black square painted on a white field, was displayed high up on the wall across a corner of the gallery—the same place a Russian Orthodox icon would be displayed in a traditional Russian home. Shaw's Joan of Arc is a true believer and a relentless fighter. Saint Joan is revered as a symbol of faith and empowerment, but the real Joan is ultimately dismissed and tossed aside. The Joan they worship is a black box in which they can choose to see only the aspects her that do not challenge their preconceived notions of the world. Director Rebecca Wright fills the books, papers, and pages of Saint Joan with black sheets where no truth can be written. The set and scenery themselves become part of the black box where Joan's light is smothered and extinguished by institutions not yet ready to accept their own saints.

When we first meet Joan she is pleading with Robert de Baudricourt to provide her with a horse, men, and armor so she can go to the Dauphin and lead the French troops to victory over the English. Although she is only a young farmer's daughter, there is something about her that convinces Baudricourt to support her campaign. Guided by the voices of Saints Margaret and Catherine, Joan wins over Charles VII and leads the French to a series of important military victories. We soon learn that Joan is not merely a military menace to the English, but also an ideological threat to their most powerful institutions. Shaw depicts Joan as a catalyst for both the protestantism that challenged the Catholic Church and the nationalism that eventually destroyed the feudal system. Joan's personal connection with god obviates the church's role as intermediary. Joan's devotion to her sovereign king threatens the superiority of the regional lords. The Catholic Church and the feudal lords join forces to see that Joan is tried and executed as a heretic. In the end she is abandoned even by the French prince and the military officers she lead to victory. A young woman with such conviction and power is too much for even the French leadership to support.

In Quintessence Theatre Group's production, Leigha Kato gives a powerhouse performance as Saint Joan. There is an intensity in Kato's Joan that is instantly compelling and thoroughly convincing. When Kato celebrates Captain de Baudricourt's capitulation the sense of joy she exudes is palpable and when she weeps for her freedom her despair is profound. The supporting cast is strong and provides Kato with plenty to work with and fight against. John Basiulis is genuinely unsettling as the Archbishop or Rheims and the Inquisitor. Josh Carpenter is excellent at the Machiavellian Earl of Warwick. Andrew Betz is an appropriately enraging Dauphin and Alan Brinks is a convincing Dunois.

The costumes are constructed from modern textiles with bright colors and large prints, but Nikki Delhomme ingeniously uses those fabrics to create the silhouettes of feudal dress. Standing in sharp contrast to the black stage, sets, and papers, the surreal costumes draw attention to the characters as flawed individuals. If the black spaces represent ideologies and constructs set free from the yoke of factual histories, then the colorful costumes and the characters who wear them reflect the frustratingly limited realities of a world hemmed in and cut short by the institutions of men.

The production is excellent, but this Saint Joan will not appeal to everyone. If you are looking for easy entertainment or a straightforward story look elsewhere. George Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan is a serious play and the Quintessence Theatre Group's production is as unapologetically intellectual as it is emotionally intense.

Quintessence Theatre Group's Saint Joan, through April 22, 2016, at the Sedgwick Theater in Mt. Airy Philadelphia. To purchase tickets or subscriptions, visit or call 1-215-987-4450.

John Basiulis: Archbishop of Rheims, The Inquisitor
Andrew Betz: The Dauphin
Alan Brincks: Brother Martin Ladvenu, Dunois
Tom Carman: Bertrand de Poulengey, Canon John D'estivet
Josh Carpenter: Gilles de Rais, Richard de Beauchamp
Sean Close: Robert de Baudricourt, John de Stogumber
Ife Foy: An English Soldier
Anita Holland: Canon de Courcelles
Gregory Isaac: Monseigneur de la Tremouille, Peter Cauchon
Leigha Kato: Joan
Aaron Kirkpatrick: Captain Le Hire, The Executioner

Director: Rebecca Wright
Set Designer: Alexander Burns
Lighting Designer: Brian Sidney Bembridge
Costume Designer: Nikki Delhomme
Production Stage Manager: Colleen Lacy
Sound Designer: Adriano Shaplin

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