Saint Joan

At Sanders Theatre

"Saint Joan" is actually a very descriptive title for this play. For Shaw here deals pre-eminently with the part of Joan that is the saint--the part that is literally inspired, that feels fierce loyalty to its "voices" and defiance toward the ways of the world. Typically, when the Maid has rejected the restraining advice of the Archbishop, of Dunois, and the Dauphin, she raises "her eyes skyward" and declares: "I have better friends and better counsel than yours." This is a Joan who inevitably rouses the world to hate her and to burn her.

In a sense Joan goes through the entire play with "her eyes skyward." This is a far different approach from the one which Jean Anouilh and Lillian Hellman took in The Lark--a comparison of the two plays seems both inevitable and intriguing--and dramatically it is a much more difficult approach. Shaw has purposely deprived himself of the spontaneous, natural, earthy Joan who made such an attractive heroine for Anouilh. Instead he has made her a saint--and everyone knows that there is nothing duller than a saint's life.

Yet this kind of dramatic handicap bothers Shaw the way an out-of-tune piano would have hurt Beethoven. What the playwright loses in motion and physical life he more than makes up for in intellectual content. Indeed, making Joan proud, self-righteous, and a military crusader adds intellectual spice to such questions as "Was she really guilty?" and "Would we burn her today?" It also leads up to the nationalism, monarchism, and Protestantism that Joan purportedly represents, and to some fine razzle-dazzle Shavian dialogue on these topics. In many ways the scenes in which these questions are most thoroughly discussed--the first dialogue between Cauchon and Warwick and the epilogue--are the most enjoyable parts of the play. In them is the quintessence of Shavianism.

Shaw's lines themselves are usually enough to put over one of his plays, but in the current production the playwright gets an assist which verges on the superhuman. Siobhan McKenna, a little slip of a girl with an expressive face and a vibrant voice who plays Joan, received tumultuous applause last night and deserved every bravo of it. Cast in the role of an inspired maid, Miss McKenna was simply inspired herself. She is radiant and divine-looking when, as La Hire says, "the spirit rises in her like that." Yet she can also be a comradely fellow-soldier to Dunois or, for brief moments, a well meaning, enthusiastic girl who is deeply perplexed that the people whom she wants to help dislike her. Miss McKenna's voice is especially wonderful. With its quick fluctuations and its burrish accent it is dramatic and unique, and holds the audience's attention constantly. Between the playwright and star, it was a great night for the Irish.

Director Albert Marre has unfortunately decided virtually to ignore Robert O'Hearn's monumental set in Sanders, but his work on Joan seems commendable in every other way. He has quite wisely let the play run close to its original length of three and a half hours, and his idea about the fifteenth century pronounciation of "Protest-ant" and "nation-alism," wherever it came from, seems positively inspired. Caldwell Titcomb's musical score, which ranges from a shepherd's melody to a full-dress motet, is not only decorative but functional. In the epilogue it takes care of the wind, lightning, thunder, and clock chimes that Shaw ordered.

Among the cast Kent Smith stands out as the Earl of Warwick, capturing perfectly that character's businesslike, practical, self-assured--in a word, English--qualities. Michael Wagner as the Dauphin stammered over his "B's" with considerable skill (and historical accuracy) and gave a good impression of weak mindedness. Frederic Tozere contributed a nice stolid manner and sermon-practiced voice as the Archbishop of Rheims. Earle Hyman as the good-natured general Dunois was methodical and colorless at first but picked up personality as he went along; and Ian Keith, Earl Montgomery, and Thayer David portrayed well three different strains of ecclesiastical man.

As for the Cambridge Drama Festival itself, it seems superfluous to comment on its accomplishment this summer. Saint Joan, its third production, is unquestionably the best so far, and one can only hope that the Festival will be around to continue its progress for many years in the future.