One playwright after another has taken a whack at writing a play about Joan of Arc but the play by Bernard Shaw currently being produced at the Plymouth is the pick of the basket. Perhaps its appeal lies in that it avoids being a tearjerker, the fault of several Joan plays, and instead works on the emotions in an honest way.
Much of "Saint Joan" is like much of Shaw: lectures amusingly presented in dialogue form. Yet on several occasions he comes up with lines so thrilling, so poetic, that one starts to consider his claims against his self-chosen arch rival in literary history--Shakespeare.
Margaret Webster, who directed this production, made the most of the balance Shaw got into "Saint Joan." She gets the most out of the moments of heroism and beauty. In the episodes of Shavian preaching, especially the conversations between the Earl of Warwick and the Cauchon, the Bishop who tries Joan, she succeeds in keeping it from deteriorating wholly into a panel discussion.
All the acting was highly professional and not much more need be said in praise. Uta Hagen played Joan, the one genuinely difficult role in the script. She had to switch from moods of humble faith to exhilaration to boisterous daring to impishness. She accomplished the switches without ever making them appear in the least unnatural. Shaw, in his stage directions, describes Joan as a coarse, dumpy little peasant and Miss Hagen was quite beautiful but I suppose this shouldn't be held against her. John Buckmaster would have gained my unbridled huzzahs for his performance as the Dauphin had he not spoken in such a distinctly British manner--something incongruous for a French monarch.
Shaw, Miss Webster, and her accomplished company all stumble lamentably in the last act, an epilogue in which Shaw invokes souls of the dead and the alive into a dream sequence, the object of which is to show the audience that the world is still not ready for saints, no matter how much it admires the dead ones. It is as impossible theatrically as the infamous Don Juan in Hell Scene and considering the perfect ways in which the first scene of Act III ends, I can't help regretting that Miss Webster didn't show more restraint than Mr. Shaw.