Sunday, November 14, 2010

blah blah blah visions blah blah blah

I went to see my pal Bruce Barton perform in the Secret Theatre production of ST JOAN and he was very good as the Inquisitor, giving an awesome rendition of the Inquisitor's big speech.

And thankfully Bruce has such great diction and powerful delivery that you could hear every word he said, which was a welcome change from most of the other actors. I looked at the online text of ST JOAN and there were many lines I don't remember anybody speaking - but not because they didn't say them - not only did the director decide to do the play without any cuts, he actually inserted bits from the published work's Preface at the beginning of each scene, where Shaw goes on and on about his opinions of Joan of Arc. As if Shaw wasn't already too verbose, too tell-don't-show! The production was three and a half hours long.

By the time ST JOAN was written, in 1923, Shaw had long since been canonized as a Great Man of the Arts and nobody could tell him to edit anything. Had someone tried, I'm sure he would have dismissed them - never has anyone been so in love with his own words.

Although he does get some drama into the play, it's in spite of all the talky-talky talk. He could have easily condensed the first scene without losing any information and greatly improved the story-telling to boot, and the fourth scene is entirely unnecessary - not only could all of the plot information be conveyed in the Inquisitor scene, but scene four itself is a thundering bore: its main purpose is to allow Shaw to make political digs about England.

But really scene four is the quintessence of this play - some men talking about Joan of Arc. All the exciting battles happen entirely off stage, and Joan's character development is entirely off-stage too. Shaw seems to have been interested in Joan as a character, if the Preface is any indication, but precious little of that interest makes it to the stage. She's scarcely more than a symbol and virtually one-note: "I have visions. I believe in my visions. My visions are from God."

While watching the play, it occurred to me that a truly interesting take on the JOAN OF ARC tale might be to play it entirely straight - I mean, what IF the omniscient omnipotent ruler of the universe cared whether or not the house of Valois or the house of Plantagenet ruled France?

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