After a sold-out run last fall, Nautilus Music-Theater has brought back Joan of Arc for another weekend run. The bad news is that the performances are already sold out. The good news is that ticket holders are in for an intense and riveting experience.
The one-act piece -- crafted by librettist Laura Harrington and composer Mel Marvin -- focuses on the last months of Joan's life, as the teenage warrior is put on trial as much for her belief that she hears the voices of saints as her actions against the English invaders of France. Issues of class and gender roles also bubble up to the surface, painting a complex portrait of the young woman who dreamed of uniting France for the French.
Most of this ends up on the shoulders of Jennifer Baldwin Peden. She spends the evening alone onstage, both telling the story of Joan and performing as the Saint. Peden brings out Joan's complexity, showing us the strong leader, spiritual guide, and confused teenager that all intermingle as she is forced down the path of martyrdom.
Fueled by Marvin's excellent score, Peden is able to bring these conflicting emotions to beautiful, heartbreaking light with her singing. Her persecution -- both in the court and as she is violated in her prison cell -- cause Joan to doubt everything she has ever believed and done, and these emotions are brought clearly and beautifully to life in the music. More impressive are the moments when the character recaptures the fiery passion that took her from being a humble maid to a triumphant warrior.
The tight confines of Nautilus's studio space quickly bridge audience to actor. With only 40 seats arrayed as a gallery on either side of a narrow playing area, the staging makes the audience as much of a participant in the proceedings as the unseen accusers and angels that hinder or guide Joan along her path.
It's a strong piece from beginning to end, showcasing the character's complexity. It's also not afraid to go full into the spiritual side of her dream. From creators to performers (Peden is assisted by five unseen singers and musicians who add plenty of emotional texture to the pieces) to the directors and designers, Joan of Arc is a triumph. Maybe Nautilus can bring it back again?
While Joan of Arc is sold out this weekend, if you happen to be in or near Winona next weekend, the show will be up at Winona State University's Dorothy B. Magnus Black Bock Theatre. Visit online for more information.
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