Saint Joan
Reviewed by David Kashimba
Photo by David Allen

The story of Joan of Arc has captivated the imagination of artists and writers for centuries, but when the playwright George Bernard Shaw began hearing Joan’s voice, it uniquely merged with his own. In his plays Shaw repeatedly creates women characters that stand up and take a place in a man’s world. Though many of Shaw’s male characters struggle against independent women and continually try to suppress them, they all have a secret desire for these active women.

What better story for Shaw to explore than the true story of Joan of Arc who wore a soldier’s uniform and fought men with her own sword at a time when such things were unheard of. The men she fought with and against were leery of this unorthodox woman yet admired her at the same time. Whether they knew it or not, Joan was the ultimate woman that they all desired.

Berkeley’s Aurora Theatre opens its new season with a powerful and humorous production of Shaw’s Saint Joan at their new theatre space at 2081 Addison Street. Directed by Aurora’s artistic director Barbara Oliver, Saint Joan has an excellent cast of Bay Area favorites, including Emily Ackerman as Joan.

While this is one of Shaw’s more serious plays, there is a lot of humor in it. For example Shaw chooses to not end his play at the moment Joan is burnt at the stake. He follows the spirit of Joan years and centuries after her death. We see Joan’s original verdict thrown out and Joan declared innocent, and we follow her all the way into the 20th century when Pope Benedict XV canonizes her as a saint.

In a dream-like ethereal realm, all those who had a part in condemning her to death make heart felt apologies, but when Joan comes up with the idea of resurrecting herself now that she’s been declared a saint, everyone gets very queasy at the thought and begs her to stay dead. While this is one of the funniest scenes in this production and carried off with perfect timing by the cast, it is also full of the serious irony of the Legend of the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoyevski’s The Brothers Karamazov. Indeed, Joan is a Christ-like figure in history, a profit that is easier put to death than listened to and woe to human order if any prophet resurrect!

For tickets or more information call (510) 843-4822 or visit www.auroratheatre.org.

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