Jeanne d’Arc (1412-31), who in this play uses her mother’s premarital name, Romée, was a charismatic leader and a military genius who improbably – because she was an illiterate peasant, and a teenage girl – led the French Army to a series of important military victories against the English after a generation of defeat.
She claimed to have had visions of Michael the Archangel (who she called “Saint Michael”), Saint Katherine and Saint Margaret, who instructed her on tactics against the enemy. Captured by the English, she was handed over to the Inquisition. The Inquisitorial Court, dominated by her foe, ignored even the meager protections provided by Inquisitorial procedures to convict her of the heresy of cross-dressing. (She wore military garb while on military campaigns, and while in prison and guarded by men, wanted to wear hosen and boots as a protection against rape.) The Court, ignoring the teachings of Thomas Aquinas (who said that cross-dressing was permitted “if necessary”), ordered her burned at the stake, which she was on May 30, 1431. She was nineteen.
Carolyn Gage has reimagined Joan of Arc (Lizzie Parmenter) – or Jeanne Romée — as a prototypical feminist, whose primary enemy is not the English, or the rogue Inquisitorial Court, but all males. She views the river of history as an unbroken symphony of patriarchy and male repression – a symphony, she is quick to remind us, which lasts until the present day. She cites the fact that of the three sources of her inspiration, only Michael had a happy ending; the other two were martyrs. (Of course, Michael was an immortal Archangel, which might have improved his chances of happiness; there were many male martyrs.) She staves off the onset of puberty – which she identifies as the thing which turns bright and inspired girls into dull and compliant women – by not eating, as many anorexics do.
Recounting her time in English prison, she turns to a description of torture: separating the body from the mind by attacking the body – through fat-shaming, or otherwise making the woman self-conscious about the inevitable imperfections of her corporeal being – and attacking the mind, by trivializing, or patronizing, or ignoring the woman. While these are hideous practices (and victimize men as well as women) they are not exactly the definition of torture in Joan of Arc’s time, which included a scissors-like device known as the “tongue tearer” and the thumbscrew, which could be used to smash not only finger joints but knees and elbows as well. (I could find no evidence that any of these devices were used to torture Joan).
The Second Coming of Joan of Arc
by Carolyn Gage
Directed by Tracey Erbacher
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Parmenter, who is the sole actor in this piece, handles Gage’s didactic passages with ease, slipping into the persona of a veteran of the gender wars (Joan would be six hundred and three now) in order to advise the women who are struggling today. She straightaway admits that her voices were her own voice, more legitimate to her than those of her father or other members of society; thus when the English seek to make her deny those voices, she takes it as a demand that she still her own voice. Parmenter makes certain that Joan’s voice remains resonant throughout.
As you may have guessed, I am not a fan of “message” plays. If they are to be done, however, they must be done with passion and conviction, as Parmenter does this one.