It would appear that Andrew Lloyd Webber is the only person who hasn't created a work about Joan of Arc. Such writers as Friedrich Schiller, Bertolt Brecht, Maxwell Anderson, Mark Twain and, most famously, George Bernard Shaw tried their hands at it; Verdi wrote an opera about her; and there are more movies than you would have thought possible. Not bad for a French farm girl who heard angels, won several battles against the British during the Hundred Years War, and was burned alive as a heretic.
Because her story encompasses so many large themes, all the people listed above have pretty much been able to find whatever they wanted in it, and expand upon that. Shakespeare, in Henry VI, wrote her as a villainess, and during World War II both Free and Occupied France claimed her as a heroine.
Following that war, French playwright Jean Anouilh wrote The Lark, with its heavy digs at the Vichy government. The play was a big success that Lillian Hellman adapted, adding swipes at McCarthyism, for a 1955 Broadway production.
Relatively little has been done with it since.
Now, Phase 3 Productions has decided to stage it at the Brew House on the South Side. I don't want to belabor the fact, but in 20 years as critic, this is the first time I've heard of this play being done in Pittsburgh and, believe me, there's a reason.
If, perhaps, I'd lived through the occupation of Paris by Hitler and were currently enduring a zeitgeist ruled by Joe McCarthy, maybe some part of this long, talky thesis would generate interest. But I'm not, and it doesn't. Anouilh was clearly writing a polemic, not a history, and Hellman's attraction to the story might have been a kinship she felt with Joan and her struggles against male orthodoxy. What else could explain why she's written Joan of Arc, dead at 19, like a 50-year-old college professor?
This Phase 3 production doesn't really add anything; as adorable as she is, I think it's a mistake for Meagan Reagle to play Joan with enough American can-do-ism to "outpluck" Huckleberry Finn. And director Rachel S. Parent and the rest of her well-meaning cast are clearly not up to the task of breathing life into this unbelievably lifeless script.
I don't think anybody could.
The Lark continues through March 1. Phase 3 at The Brew House, 2100 Mary St., South Side. 412-567-5033 or www.phase3productions.org