Chicago Theatre Review
Re-imagining Joan of Arc
The Shepherd’s Daughter – Paradeigma Collective
Four women drift onto the tiny stage as a kind of Greek chorus, singing a mournful rendition of “Alouette,” the French children’s song about plucking feathers from a lark. It’s not coincidental that Jean Anouilh’s more famous play about the trial, condemnation and execution of Joan of Arc is entitled “The Lark.” In this fledgling theatre company’s first production, Whitney La Mora has composed her own version about the Maid of Orleans. The teenage girl who claimed to have seen visions of St. Michael, commanding her to aid Charles VII reclaim her native France from English rule, is popular subject among artists. In 1491, at the tender age of 19, Joan was captured by the enemy, tried and burned at the stake for heresy. Much later in the 20th century the Church would beatify her and canonize her as a saint.
In La Mora’s version of this story, the Greek chorus both comment on the action and represent four aspects of Joan’s personality: The Sick (Mary-Kate Arnold), The Pious (Sarah Kopp), The Psycho (Mallory Nees) and The Doubt (Megan Ligeti). These ladies lecture, nag, make excuses and comfort the young girl throughout this 70-minute production. A self-doubting Joan, played with honest simplicity by the playwright herself, defends her beliefs and defends her motivations. She meets and befriends a young soldier, played with sincerity by Matthew Erickson. The young man’s unwavering belief in Joan helps the teenager find the determination and conviction to lead armies. Erickson then switches gears playing the Judge who orchestrates Joan’s inquisition. Representing the pro-English Bishop of Beauvais Pierre Cauchon, Erickson becomes a forceful, frightening spokesperson for the Church. Two other actors, Don Balocchi and A.J. Miller fill the roles of additional soldier and clergymen.
Joan’s story is a reexamination of what drove an illiterate teenage peasant girl to lead forces against such the formidable English enemy during the Hundred Year’s War. That she would give up her home, family, childhood friends–indeed, her entire simple, bucolic life–to risk everything for her country is a mystery that’s intrigued scholars for centuries. Ms. La Mora’s depiction offers a unique and thought-provoking new look at the French martyr’s motivations. Joan, as seen in this feminist interpretation, remains a positive role model for women. Her bravery would later transformed her into a symbol of political freedom.
Performed on a mostly bare stage and costumed by Rissa Crozier and Megan Ligeti in modest raiments that suggest time and place, this production focuses primarily on the text and its performances. The welcome exception is Dustin H. Currier’s richly embellished, live instrumental soundtrack that helps create the mood and provides scenic transitions. Director Emily Sharp has kept the play moving and her actors focused and articulate. As this script dictates, Ms. Sharp smartly highlights Joan’s inner conflict throughout the story. Actresses Mary-Kate Arnold and Mallory Nees are particularly effective in their roles as Joan’s alter egos, as is Ms. La Mora, in the leading role. Joan’s simply staged execution stands out as one of the play’s most effective moments.
As the launch of a brand new new company into Chicago’s already crowded storefront theatrical scene, this production is both noteworthy and admirable. Ms. LaMora’s script is thoughtfully researched and imaginatively written. The subject of many playwrights, authors, artists and musicians, this short work glorifies Joan of Arc’s bravery and feminine independence in a male-dominated world, while raising questions about what motivated the young girl’s uncharacteristic actions. Performed with confidence and earnest conviction by a cast of competent young actors, The Paradeigma Collective is a company to watch.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented July 10-August 2 by The Paradeigma Collective (in association with The Chicago Mammals) at the Zoo Studios, 4001 N. Ravenswood, suite 205, Chicago.
Tickets are available by going to http://joan.brownpapertickets.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.