Through April 19 at the Yale Cabaret, 217 Park St., New Haven. (203) 43201566, www.yalecabaret.org
By Lee Ryan Campbell. Direted by Sara Holdren. Dramaturg: Helen Jaksch. Set: Jean Kim, Izmir Ickbal. Lights: Oliver Wason, Caitlin Smith Rapoport. Sound: Sinan Zafar. Costumes: Fabian Aguilar. Projections: Joey Moro. Technical Director: Alix Reynolds. Stage Manager/Producer: Sally Shen. Performed by Maura Hooper (Wall), Aaron Bartz (Bott), Ariana Venturi (Stobezki), Christopher Geary (Gabriel), James Cusati-Moyer (Michael), Annie Hägg & Elizabeth Mak (Okun) and Jeremy Funke.
Joan of Arc has been blessed in the types of writer who’ve been attracted to her story. There are the plays by Anouilh, Anderson, Shaw and Brecht. There are the films by Dreyer and Besson. There’s the novel by Mark Twain. All have a special wit, a skeptical strain, a need to take the heroic adventure format apart even while upholding it.
In a remarkable three-act play, A New Saint for a New World, Ryan Campbell demonstrates those same qualities. This Joan of Arc is a joy to behold, particularly as played by Maura Hooper, who distills the attitudes of a young Diane Lane and a young Kathleen Turner with a little present-day Zooey Deschanel thrown in. The supporting cast, which ranges from mortals to angels and beyond, keeps the play on an entertaining and enlightening plane. It’s nice to see New Haven-based actor Jeremy Funke, a non-Yalie (he went to Harvard) who’s performed locally with Elm Shakespeare Company and New Haven Theater Company, making a late-in-show surprise entrance that turns into A New Saint’s concluding philosophical dialogue.
Dialogue guides the whole show. Scenes occur just after some major event has transpired; the action is commented upon, not shown. But this is not some talky religious parable. It changes up styles and situations and relationships. It cracks jokes.
In fact, A New Saint for a New World starts like a relationship comedy. A young man is looking for sympathy from his girlfriend and is met instead with an outlandish confession: she is Joan of Arc brought back to Earth over half a century since her martyrdom. The renewed Joan’s recollection of her past exploits (“Shit was going pretty sideways in France…”) is a wonderful set piece that anchors the show in history and gives it the spiritual patina it needs to proceed. In the middle section of the play, we learn that Joan was unable to keep her promise not to cause more revolution. The revelations from then on are too clever for me to want to reveal them to you now.
Like so many chroniclers of Joan of Arc, Ryan Campbell humanizes the heroine, finds the humor in her plight. What the playwright does best is show us that Joan’s situation is not really so exceptional. The world lacks faith and direction. Revolutions quickly foment, and can cause untold damage, even when—especially when—the cause is just. “When the state denies the will of the people, the people must push back,” Joan decrees from captivity.
What college theater troupe would not want to give this empowered, amusing update a try? It’s a natural for the Yale Cabaret, which provides a tight, focused arena-style set (a platform in the middle of the room, with a mysterious portal off to one side) and enough lighting and projection effects to enhance the drama without overpowering it. A sharp production all around, one that should proclaim itself far and wide. This Joan’s not for burning.