Tuesday, September 26, 2006

"Playing Joan" is a good book of interviews with women who have played Joan of Arc in George Bernard Shaw's play "Saint Joan." It was created by Holly Hill, herself an actress.

Joan from Arc led armies, told a king what to do and he did it. She changed history.

The number of women who led armies in person and won battles is finite.

The number of plays where a woman has the lead and plays someone with real power and dominates the entire play is very finite, especially if you're looking for a play by a major playwright.

Guys who are serious actors can age through Romeo, Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear if they are determined.

The women in "Playing Joan" feel like "Saint Joan" is it for them in terms of a huge part about a woman with actual power. There is nothing else. Shaw isn't Shakespeare, but then Shakespeare didn't write that kind of play for a woman character. (In Shakespeare's England, everyone on stage was a man, so the women character, roles of any size, were all played by men. He never wrote a huge masterpiece dominated by a woman's part like his big tragedies.)

Joan of Arc died in early twenties, so women who want to play her have to get a move on. In current theatre taste, they can play her when they are older than she is, but not that much older.

"Saint Joan" has a huge cast, which makes it the kind of play hard to put on these days.

The women in this book who played Saint Joan felt lucky and challenged. Some of them made it happen for themselves, like Lynn Redgrave.

She went to a lot of trouble to make a production of "Saint Joan" while she was still passably young enough. While she was doing it, she basically really liked what she was doing. She also once had a negative mystical experience.

Joan was instructed what to do by the voices of two women saints, Catherine and Elizabeth. When she temporarily, under pressure, gave in and said she was bad and wrong, what she said that was worst to her was that her saints voices weren't real.

When Lynn Redgrave playing Joan talked to the saints and listened to them she always looked at a particular point in the ceiling of the theatre.

One performance in the long run of the play with a long part for her, she phoned in her performance. She wasn't really there, used those actor's tricks to make it seem to work.

When she looked up the the saint's part of the ceiling, it felt terrible. It felt bad, as in bad/evil. It was scary.

She never phoned in a performance of the part again.

Joan of Arc was not only a general but a mystic. We have her words about her own life and experience.

She close enough to modern times that at her show trial, everything everyone said, including her, was written down. Shaw used many direct quotes in the play from the living, soon to be judicially murdered Joan.

With the actual words, not some guy's imagination only, not some modern woman's imagination only, Joan is there, more than play people usually are, and if Joan is there, changing history, her saints are there, and not to be messed around with.