The historical story of Joan of Arc is an amazing one. It has been immortalized many times in the arts, in books, movies, and so on. I was intrigued by the Playhouse in the Park’s OFF THE HILL tour tackling such heavy material in a show recommended for audiences ages 11 and up. This show captures the essence of this almost mythical historical figure while entertaining and inspiring those who see it.
Todays’ performance at the Carnegie Center of Columbia Tusclum capped off the opening weekend of the production. First, the building was beautiful and the space had great acoustics which made the haunting song that opened and closed the show resonate well. It also made Joan’s rousing motivational speech to the French Army sound like I picture it might have as she gave it those hundreds of years ago. The hardwood floors complimented the simple, yet versatile set (designed by Christopher Boone) and various settings came alive with just a few props and design elements. Because this is a touring show, simple is a requirement. KJ Sanchez’s direction was spot on, bringing out the best of the actors while keeping the show accessible to its young audience.
The performances delivered exactly as promised. Chelsea D. Harrison showed the energy, charisma, and spunkiness I always pictured when thinking about “Joan.” The role required lots of physicality and she was fearless, giving the role all it required. Joan was full of self-doubt, but had enormous faith and Harrison obviously understood that. During the talk back, she discussed how much research she did prior to the role and that hard work and dedication very much paid off.
Jon Kovach, one of my favorite actors in town, plays awkward self-esteem-challenged adolescents and young adults better than anyone and here again he shone as “Daniel,” Joan’s would-be-suitor and best friend. He always uses his entire body to tell us about the characters he is playing but today I paid particular attention to his expressive eyes. There’s something magical about the way he projects his character’s unspoken thoughts sometimes without even saying a word.
Justin Weaks does a wonderful job as well, morphing from a confident, dismissive priest into the teenage Dauphin prince – two completely different characters – and makes it look easy. There’s something very engaging about his energy and I can’t wait to see him dig his teeth into a more adult role sometime.
I thought the script, written by Darrah Cloud (who was in attendance today), captured the history while maintaining accessibility to the target audience. There were some really funny lines; I loved The Prince asking if he had anything in his teeth during the coronation, for instance. Also, after watching “The Book of Mormon” skewer religion and faith with irreverence and offensive (to me) humor, it was nice to see this work that treated a person of faith with respect and without disdain or insult. I loved the costumes by Gordon DeVinney and thought the sound design by Jeremy Lee was perfect. I paid $5 for my ticket today and that is an absolute steal. Some of the venues don’t even charge admission!
This show is appropriate for audiences 11 and up according the Playhouse’s web site. I believe that more mature children a few years younger might also enjoy and appreciate this show. Adults absolutely should go and remember one of the most fascinating heroines in world history and watch as a tremendous cast and crew bring this story to life with elegance, humor, and skill.
JOAN THE GIRL OF ARC begins its school tour on Tuesday and can be seen in various community centers on the weekends until February 22nd. The schedule is available here.