3 Plate Photography
SHOW: St. Joan, Betrayed
GENRE: Theater / solo / puppets
GROUP: Mary Tuomanen and Aaron Cromie
ATTENDED: Thu., Sept. 5, 7 p.m., Theatre Exile
CLOSES: Sat., Sept. 14
BRIEF SELF-DESCRIPTION: “What happens to a symbol when it outlives its usefulness? Performer Mary Tuomanen and director Aaron Cromie explore the betrayal of Joan of Arc by her own army at Compeigne. A virtuosic solo show with masks, puppets and movement."
WE THINK: St. Joan was a pretty great one to see as my first show of the festival. Not only was it just good and fun to watch, it was a great example of that Fringe spirit — extremely low-tech staging brought to life by great performances. A director I talked to once about making theater with low-budget sets mentioned that the human brain was more than happy to imagine a sword onto a pencil; here, Tuomanen, as the title character (and every other character), persuasively creates a sword, a horse, a battle and invisible captors jerking her around out of nothing at all.
Three suitcases, small, medium and large, serve as nearly the entire set: They hold the small number of masks, puppets and props (mostly made by partner Cromie) that Tuomanen uses to denote different characters; stacked center stage, they serve as a small "offstage" area behind which the characters can disappear and emerge; they open to show a miniature countryside through which an action-figure Joan can ride; they serve as church pews and other rough furniture.
Tuomanen multitasks just as much herself, playing several characters: Joan, who speaks wild-eyed French most of the play, the Arrested Development-ish Dauphin, the Bishop who will eventually sentence and burn her, and two soldiers in the army. How she accomplishes that last one — a double-headed mask that shows one face when the wearer is looking right, the other when she's looking left — is so neat that it's hard not to get removed from the action and marvel at how cleverly it's accomplished. It's even more impressive that, after a while, it started to feel like two regular characters having a dialogue.
There were a couple moments of technical difficulty, more in Cromie's tiny-puppet prologue than Tuomanen's main act, but it was the opening night, after all, and they were handled with such charm that they were barely blips. And at only 45 minutes, the charm held all the way through the performance.
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