The voices in Joan of Arc’s head guide her on a journey into parts unknown, winning hearts and minds to her cause. The cast of Saint Joan are living a similar life these days, having wandered far from New York into Olney, Maryland (not exactly parts unknown, but close). And the multitude of voices from which they take their cues — two dozen roles are here divvied up among four actors — form a grander harmony, thanks to the intricate and compelling language of George Bernard Shaw’s 1923 play.
Right away, it’s clear that this small, burly troupe is up for the challenge of carting in a huge play and stripping it down with a precise, keen-eyed respect. It could have all added up to a bloated, overlong folly, but with this sharp, fast, and relentlessly focused staging, Bedlam Theatre’s southward sojourn proves a just cause.
We follow peasant girl Joan (played throughout by Andrus Nichols) on her escapades through France within the vaulting expanse of the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theater Lab at Olney Theatre Center. It’s a raw barn space — exposed rafters, bare walls, no curtain — and Bedlam embraces every nook and cranny, taking full advantage of spaces both outside and inside to bring Saint Joan to life.
But the most crucial bit of the mix is imagination, drawn easily out of us through Bedlam’s bare-bones approach to storytelling and to, as the company states, their love for “ the immediacy of the relationship between the actor and the audience.” That dynamic is strong throughout — the cast perform in close proximity to us, often running between and behind the risers, and a few key bits of direct interaction during the show add to the fun in ways that push the story forward.
The production budget is awfully small for this one (what’s a step below ‘shoestring’?) and Nichols performs alongside her three male co-stars (Ted Lewis, Tom O’Keefe, and Bedlam’s Artistic Director Eric Tucker, who also directs this one) using only a few pieces of furniture, even fewer costumes and props, and a couple of quick strokes of paint.
All the less to distract us from the warm acoustics of Shaw’s words, and from the finely detailed, thoughtful work of the actors playing mere feet (and sometimes inches) away.
Closes October 20, 2013
Olney Theatre Center
2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd.
3 hours with 2 intermission
Tickets: $48 – $55
Tuesdays thru Sundays
“There are no villains in the piece,” Shaw wrote in his preface to the play. “It is what men do at their best, with good intentions, and what normal men and women find that they must and will do in spite of their intentions, that really concern us.”
This Saint Joan was a hit in New York in 2012, and although the level of interactivity with the audience on Bleecker Street isn’t quite equaled in this new space, Nichols and company find dozens of little ways to keep us engaged.
To drive a three-hour show forward like an epic, not a slog, takes muscle and ingenuity. Here’s a troupe that lives for the blood and sweat required to do it in good faith.
Saint Joan plays in rotating repertory with Bedlam Theatre’s equally stripped-down production of Hamlet — featuring the same four actors in the same playing space — through October 20.
Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw . Directed by Eric Tucker . Featuring Andrus Nichols, Ted Lewis, Tom O’Keefe, and Eric Tucker . Produced by Bedlam Theatre . Presented by Olney Theatre Center . Reviewed by Hunter Styles