George Bernard Shaw’s “Saint Joan” is getting a sterling revival in this Manhattan Theatre Club production illuminatingly directed by Daniel Sullivan. The big question is how effective is Condola Rashad in the challenging role of Joan. The answer: very effective, and ultimately extremely moving. Rashad’s Joan is impressive indeed.
She is all militant and determined as the young woman destined for sainthood, who hears voices and believes she is a messenger for God in encouraging the French to fight hard against the English in the year 1429. There is fire in her eyes as she passionately expresses her faith in the face of doubters.
Rashad handles Shaw’s dialogue with utmost clarity and meaning. There is nothing ethereal about her interpretation and manner. She is totally committed and a powerful organizer, yet with a vibrant personality that makes her likable despite her constant religious proselytizing and confrontational demeanor with those whom she seeks to mobilize.
Only toward the end when brought to trial does her vulnerability show as she collapses in temporary belief that her faith has been misguided, and we see a woman whose life has been shattered. Rashad touches our hearts. But as Shaw dramatizes so poignantly, the rebel in her reasserts itself after she refuses to take the way out offered by the French collaborators and the English. Joan learns that after signing a recantation that instead of going free she will be condemned to a life in prison. Joan tears up her recantation and reasserts her faith despite the price of the horrible death by fire that awaits her.
Shaw tops his play with an epilogue 25 years later as Joan, a lively ghost from the past, visits the aging Dauphin, Charles VII, played both in youth and older by the excellent Adam Chanler-Berat, as if in his dream. She gets into bed to lie beside him as they talk. Soon others from the past show up, and Shaw’s dialogue reveals the hypocrisy of how Joan was unjustly tried but posthumously vindicated and guilty consciences cleansed by the church making her a saint, the news brought by a visitor from the future.
The production is filled with worthy performances, including that of Patrick Page as Robert de Baudricourt and then doubling as The Inquisitor, John Glover as the Archbishop of Rheims, Jack Davenport as the Earl of Warwick and by numerous others.
The set design by Scott Pask consists of one large assembly of hanging golden tubes that resemble a gigantic, all-embracing pipe organ. There are some attention-grabbing projections along the way designed by Christopher Ash. The play is elaborately costumed by Jane Greenwood, which helps to make us feel we are back in the 15th century.
Most importantly, I came away hoping that Rashad receives the proper recognition due for her scaling the dramatic heights inherent in Shaw’s work with a profound and moving acting achievement. At the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed May 5. 2018.