Chicago Theatre Review
Joan’s Laughter Is Intensely Surprising
By Lazlo Collins
“Joan’s Laughter” now playing through 17 June 2012 at Side Project Theatre in Rogers Park is the kind of show that is all at once intense, with an engaging finish, that will leave you saying, “I should have seen THAT coming!”
It is the last night before Joan of Arc is to be burned at the stake. She was only 19 years old. History tells us she saw visions and was martyred as a lunatic and false prophet. 25 Years later they decided, okay, maybe she did see the visions and have France’s best interest in mind. She became a saint.
Joan of Arc has remained a significant figure in western culture through various films and theatrical productions. Side Project has brought her back again, this time to explore the night before her execution.
The brutality of the age, not to mention what she had to endure from the men that considered her a threat to them and their country, makes this 75 minute play a rough journey.
There was a lot of yelling and fighting going on most of the show. The desperation of her position seemed anticlimactic because we already know what the ultimate outcome will be. No one can, or wants to help her understand her last hours on earth. The clergy are only interested in making sure she confessed that her visions are all lies and she is hysterical. Joan herself takes the audience on a ride of conviction, and we see the fight in her about wanting to be saved.
This play brings up many ideas about what is real to her and what is not. SPOILER ALERT: I liked being lulled into the story, unaware of The Sixth Sense style revelation that comes later. It really took me by surprise.
Meredith Rae Lyon’s deep emotional dedication to this part definitely rang true. She was Joan and her commitment to the role gives her credibility. Although I thought much of the interactions were all at the same overwrought level. I enjoyed the quiet moments of introspection that received more pathos from this viewer. Ms. Lyon’s gave a valiant attempt with a script that seemed not too flushed out.
I also enjoyed Ron Wells as “Ladvenu”, who tries in his own way to get her to confess so her soul will be saved. He was believable and with just the right amount of intensity.
Jeannie Affelder as the “Nun” gave a solid performance as Joan’s helper and ultimately her reliance as a visionary and saint.
“The Guards” seem a bit too intense, playing it for the anger then for the understanding of their position and relationship with Joan.
The perfect set and costumes for this piece were a nice compliment to the space and direction.
For those theater goers who enjoy a historical, intense, snippet from history, this has your name all over it. But with Joan’s name on this production, it is all her. Prayerful, repentant, and challenged she moves through the play with blinding rage at all those in her ken. But it will be up to you to go figure, which figure, is truly with Joan till the very end.