Heretic, directed by Matt Bernard, is a 50-minute one-woman show, tastefully scripted with feminine insight. Sarah Thorpe skillfully blends history with artistic interpretation in her portrayal of the emotionally gritty teenage Joan of Arc.
The tight theatre space is sometimes disrupted by footsteps overhead, but such added noises give a sort of homey quality to Joan’s confessions. The basement is transformed into a theatrical arena with black and white images of European peasant culture wallpapered over the walls of the stage. Eyes are drawn to the French flag which hangs vertically in the doorway upstage. Lighting director Jakob Ehman makes use of sparse but effective sound effects, blending old and new, shifting from bell chimes to boxing bell rings.
Joan dramatically steps onto the stage holding a shield oozing French nationalism. She wears a simple white camisole, riding pants and has her hair plainly pulled back. The audience quickly realizes, through monologue, that the play will focus on patriarchal disruption, teenage cross-dressing vulnerability and historical glorification.
Joan of Arc (Sarah Thorpe) performs a balancing act of personalities, displaying strength, stubbornness and doubt. At the switch of a mask and a mustache, she becomes a mistress, her father, a sports commentator, a hyper-masculine soldier and a cold priest. The seamless character transitions are accomplished through simple placement of a cross necklace, which hangs by her chest one minute and down her back the next. Thorpe cleverly removes her blazer, and in doing so, shifts perspective and becomes Joan's abusive father. This sharp stage movement is coupled with tight facial expressions, however, even with numerous character changes, Thorpe does not confuse her audience.
The script lends credence to broader questions of faith and patience in the human retelling of a brave 19-year-old girl who died for her country. As tension heightens because of the play’s trial scene, audience members are captivated by the simplicity of the candle, representing Joan’s brutal fate. As Joan inquires about the smell of burning flesh, the smell of a struck match reaches audience members' nostrils. The repetition of lines such as “the voices came first, the reasons came after” summed up the production. Joan picks up her shield and quietly leaves.
Heretic runs until April 12 at the Lemon Tree Studio, 58 Stewart Street, Toronto, Ont.
Photo credit: Justin Haigh