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    The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc

    Saints alive

    An unusual restraint, for a Target Margin production, provides a skillful balance for the passion of the Joan of Arc story in the revival of Charles P使uy's rarely performed "The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc."


    Target Margin's David Herskovits sometimes directs as though he has too many great ideas for his own good. In productions like "Dido, Queen of Carthage," and "The Marriage of Figaro," he has spun elaborate deconstructed confections that often dazzled but occasionally overwhelmed both the text and the audience. Those productions were not too much of a good thing so much as they were too many good things at once.

    Company: Target Margin.
    Written by: Charles P使uy.
    Directed by: David Herskovits.
    Cast: Daphne Gaines, Jerusha Klemperer, Sophia Skiles.
    Sound design by: Tim Schellenbaum.
    Set design by: Lenore Doxsee.
    Costumes by: David Zinn.
    Lighting design by: Mark Barton.

    Related links: Official site
    145 Sixth Ave.
    Previews start: May 5, 2004
    May 12 - June 6, 2004

    It's refreshing, then, to witness his impeccably crafted new production of Charles P使uy's largely forgotten "The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc." Carefully controlled and subdued, this is a production full of passionate but delicate performances and exquisite stagecraft that serve to illuminate rather than obfuscate the text. For this production, Herskovits has turned all his usual complexity in on itself to construct a staging of deceptive stillness and simplicity.

    P使uy's play is a meditation and dialogue about inaction in the face of violence. Is it pacifism or cowardice? Are those who do nothing but shake their heads at an unjust war guilty as accomplices to said crime? Is it Pride to disdain those who do not share one's righteous indignation? Is lashing out at injustice a form of Vengeance or is it a moral imperative? The questions are posed and debated, repeated and escalated, over the course of 75 minutes. The tone is somber, serious, subdued.

    This production matches the play's tone beautifully: tightly controlled, precise, mostly quiet. Mark Barton's lights are diffuse, indirect, with no hot spots. Tim Schellenbaum's sound is kept almost at the subliminal level, underscoring emotional turning points without drawing attention to itself. Lenore Doxsee's spare set consists of a rectangle of elevated astroturf adrift in a vast white room, resonating with the themes of moral isolation that run through the play's Socratic dialogue.

    This production stands as a monument to itself, and to Target Margin's mission to unearth neglected dramas and present them in a way that tests and expands our expectations of the theater.  

    The performers are similarly directed to limit their movements and inflections in order to achieve a liturgical, meditative affect. It's a credit to the strength and intelligence of these three actresses that they are able to comply with the strict aesthetic limitations placed on them by the director while still making the performances their own, stamping them with their own creative marks. Jerusha Klemperer is faced with the difficult task of playing the "light" role in a very serious play. As Hauviette, the youngest of the onstage characters, she seems almost to occupy a different, more contemporary, setting than her counterparts. She performs well, but sometimes seems almost irrelevant in the context of the more serious scenes between her colleagues. As Jeanette, Sophia Skiles engages debates respectfully, quietly, but with an embryonic rage that intimates her imminent transformation into Joan of Arc. While Joan is nominally the play's focus, Daphne Gaines's Madame Gervaise makes the most lasting impression here. Her indignation and frustration when Jeannette insists she would not have turned a blind eye at Christ's crucifixion are particularly memorable. (Of course it helps that she is allowed the only real outburst of the production.) All three actresses perform with a precision and subtlety that mark them as a credit to their craft.

    Much is made in the publicity materials about the timeliness and topicality of P使uy's text, and there is indeed some resonance as Jeanette rages against the evils of war. Mostly, though, this production stands as a monument to itself, and to Target Margin's mission to unearth neglected dramas and present them in a way that tests and expands our expectations of the theater.

    MAY 25, 2004

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