Sunday, September 24, 2006

New York, 2004: The Mystery Of The Charity Of Joan Of Arc

Paul Wagler sends me a link to this 2004 revival of a 1910 show with some real contemporary interest. I'd better read it: Paul's batting 1.000, having been the one to bring me the script of SHADOWLANDS back in the early nineties!

The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc
by Charles Péguy, translated by Julian Green

May 12 - Jun 5, 2004
Produced by the Target Margin Theater at the Here Arts Center, New York

A CurtainUp Review
by Les Gutman

"He who allows things to be done is like him who orders them to be done.
It is all one. It is worse than him who does them. Because he who does shows
courage, at least, in doing. He who commits a crime has at least the courage
to commit it.And when you allow the crime to be committed, you have the
same crime, and cowardice to boot." Jeannette


Kierkegaard, to whom Charles Péguy no doubt owed some debt, said that the self is "a relation which relates itself to itself". In The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc, we find a young Joan of Arc (Sophia Skiles) engaged in an existential struggle, with her self, her faith and the relation between the two. These play out alone, in conversation with a young, less thought-burdened contemporary, Hauviette (Jerusha Klemperer), and in a dialectic with a holy woman, Madame Gervaise (Daphne Gaines). They are, we are asked to believe at least, the tribulations of Joan of Arc, the foundations for the more familiar religious figure to come.

Péguy's lyrical work, here in a largely unfussy translation by Julian Green, overflows with words as it compresses Joan's spiritual anxiety into an economical but full seventy minutes. (Written almost a century ago, this is the play's American premiere.) David Herksovits wisely focuses the three fine actors on the language. Those familiar with the playful aesthetic which usually infuses his work may be surprised to discover it is largely absent here.

Regardless of the extent to which one is bowled over by the play's religious aspects, the play's context couldn't raise questions of greater currency. For young Jeanette finds herself confronted by war, its effects and its seeming irreconcilability:
For every wounded man we happen to look after, for every child we feed, indefatigable war makes hundreds of wounded, of sick and homeless people, every day. All our efforts are in vain. War has more power than anything when it comes to making people suffer. Ah, a curse on war!

Those who kill lose their souls because they kill. And those who are killed lose their souls because they are killed.
The three women in this cast are up to the challenges presented. There is a genuineness in Sophia Skiles' Jeanette that filters her passion and anguish through the lens of a young woman, "different" no doubt, who is seeking her own inexplicable truths. Daphne Gaines is skillful in guiding her, yet neither character is permitted to convey the sort of earnestness that would quickly render the text overwrought. Jerusha Klemperer operates in a lighter vein, with flashes of contemporary sensibilities, but her counterpoint is never jolting.

Lenore Doxsee has a large canvas in Here's mainstage theater. She has chosen to suggest both the vastness of the world and the intimacy of one's personal view of it in a particularly striking way. A spinning wheel becomes the focal point. Mark Barton's lighting, mostly achieved indirectly, is exceptionally supportive, and David Zinn's costumes also work quite well in establishing the characters.

*

"David Herskovits' Target Margin Theater... has revived a mock-medieval French play from 1910, and there's not a surplus gadget to be seen - only a peaceful, low-key environment, a single raked platform, and whatever magic the three actresses' voices can coax from the text... Herskovits' simple act of aesthetic faith has powerful resonances in a theater, and a world, hooked on every kind of overindulgence." The Village Voice

"The holy stillness of this Target Margin Theater production, masterfully evoked by director David Herskovits and his excellent ensemble, encourages the unhurried contemplation of this mysterious little play... Translated by Julian Green, the writing accumulates in gradually shifting repetitions that take on incantatory power." Newsday

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