WHAT “Saint Joan”
WHERE Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St..
INFO From $65; 212-239-6200, telecharge.com
BOTTOM LINE Condola Rashad is an intriguing Joan of Arc in the Shaw classic.
No need to worry about spoilers in this one, everyone know exactly how the story ends.
Director Daniel Sullivan couldn't do much in his staging of George Bernard Shaw’s "Saint Joan," now at Manhattan Theatre Club's Friedman Theatre, to save the French heroine from her horrific fate, though he did manage to inject the uneven production with a few moments of levity (more on that later).
Condola Rashad makes an intriguing Joan, a bucket-list role that has attracted a laundry list of stage and screen stars. Rashad--a multiple Tony nominee--portrays the teen who ended up leading the French army before being executed as a heretic with a brave mix of doubt, humility and fierce independence. She may be on the edge of understatement in early scenes, almost getting lost in the towering organ pipes that make up Scott Pask's striking set. But she grows into the role (much as Joan did) and her trial scene is chilling, a powerful and timely statement about women standing up to the men who would control them.
Sadly, when Rashad is not on stage, the piece tends to go flat, despite strong performances by Patrick Page, doubling as the blowhard Robert de Baudricourt and the duplicitous Inquisitor, Jack Davenport as the Earl of Warwick, John Glover as the Archbishop of Rheims and Adam Chandler-Berat as the French King Charles VII.
Especially interminable is a scene in which Warwick and the Archbishop discuss ad nauseam the variety of ways they might rationalize sending Joan to the stake. When they come up with some nonsense about her dressing in men's clothes (uh, she was going into battle), you can almost feel every woman in the audience shooting daggers.
The trial scene, too, gets a little draggy as various clerics conjure endless arguments to elicit a confession, their failure bringing the expected morbid conclusion. Mercifully, all we see of the execution is a billowing column of smoke.
Now, about that levity. Shaw ended the show with an epilogue, set 25 years later when Joan appears to Charles in a dream. Sullivan turns it into something of a bedroom farce, with Joan crawling in with the king to hear that a posthumous trial has exonerated her. Others join the cozy assemblage of bedfellows, before an emissary from the future comes to report that Joan has been canonized.
An appropriate end for a play about a revered saint? Maybe not, but at least Sullivan won't get tried for heresy.