The Austin Chronicle

Paper Chairs' The Repentance of Saint Joan

Patrick Shaw's new play is less a tale of Joan of Arc's life than a divine meditation on love lost

Reviewed by T. Lynn Mikeska, April 6, 2018, Arts

From beginning to end, The Repentance of Saint Joan is an exploration of loss. In this world premiere from Paper Chairs, playwright Patrick Shaw finds himself smoldering in throes of an anachronistic autodrama. Haunted by Joan of Arc in both voice and vision, Patrick, a former page and Joan's most devoted follower, seeks to set right a history that doesn't do her justice. After viewing a documentary that is more fiction than fact, Patrick tracks down Stephen, the historian responsible for besmirching his beloved, with the intent of taking a serious pound of flesh.

But Joan divinely intervenes, and what would have been an act of violence instead becomes an act of faith as two people with connections to the lost saint share their memories, their grievances, and their absence of closure.

Elizabeth Doss (who gives us a no-nonsense, fit-for-the-fight Joan), Judd Farris (as our forlorn and lovelorn playwright and protagonist), and Jess O'Rear (whose Stephen is an adorable academic with an equal love for history and cat metaphors) compose a formidable acting ensemble, taking us through Shaw's story in a way that feels incredibly genuine and vulnerable. Co-direction by Shaw, Doss, and Lisa Laratta ensures a cohesive production that carries us not toward resolution, but instead leaves questions hanging over the audience's head about their own lives, loves, and battles.

As beautiful as the performances are, one of the standout stars of The Repentance of Saint Joan is the space itself. The Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems is, by day, an experiment in sustainable construction for found and recycled objects. By night, it is a place of mystery and wonder best explored with your favorite saint's hand in yours. The show takes place in an alcove, open to the sky. Wood, air, fire, and water convene in Laratta's spartan-yet-splendid set design, filling the space with crackling natural magick that invokes equal parts witchcraft and Catholicism. Natalie George and Sadie Langenkamp's lighting design complete the spell, their glimmers and washes supernatural surprises, and Lowell Bartholomee's video design creates one hell of an inciting incident with his documentary plug that combines the absolute worst of the History and Learning channels right down to its Southern Fried Homicide-serious but radio-smooth female narration.

The Repentance of Saint Joan is less a historical account of Joan of Arc than a meditation on the love we lost, the people that disappeared, the chances we didn't take, the things we didn't say, the truths we never told, and the wars we were too afraid to fight. Come alone, and you'll leave thinking of the one you still burn for. Come with someone you love, and you'll leave thinking of each other. Either way, you'll have a little more insight into the inner workings of your own heart, which makes for a theatrical experience that is truly divine.

The Repentance of Saint Joan

The Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems, 8604 FM 969
Through April 7
Running time: 1 hr., 20 min.

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