JOAN written and directed by Sarah Phillips, with Christine Brubaker, John Cleland, Karin Randoja and Patrick McManus. Presented by red red rose outdoors in the Distillery District (55 Mill). To October 26, Wednesday-Sunday 8 pm. $15 (October 16-19)-$20 (October 22-26). 416-516-8158. Rating: NNN
Sarah Phillips's striking version of the Joan of Arc story is a rare show that blends charm and incisive commentary in equal amounts. Using street-fair entertainers and puppets, the writer/director shows us the worries of the Maid, her family and friends when she's chosen to lead the French to victory over the English.
The audience sits outdoors, watching actors and a quilt backdrop lit by candles and small lights as the story unfolds. Joan, some soldiers, courtiers and prosecutors are puppets, while Joan's parents, best friend and parish priest are human performers.
But don't think for a minute that Joan - voiced by Karin Randoja - isn't a deeply felt creation, nor that the comedy at the court is diminished because tiny figures present it.
Phillips's text and lyrics contrast nicely with John Millard 's music, full of drunken-polka tunes, rounds and lyrical ballads. Just as important are Sherri Hay 's puppets, created out of found materials. Joan's armour is made from cake-decorating pieces and her helmet a corona-like structure that suggests her later sainthood, while Bluebeard's beard is a brush head spattered with blood. And yes, because the audience wants it, there's the final burning at the stake.
The cast - Christine Brubaker , John Cleland , Patrick McManus and Randoja - understands and conveys the emotions of the tale as well as its playfulness. I'd like more menace from Cleland 's Wolfe, the troupe leader who morphs into the hovering, hungry lupine figure with nail-hard teeth and both feeds on and encourages the tale's underlying fear.