Swords, Demons, Witches and Saints

It might be early for references to Halloween, as in my title, but CNU English and MRST took a group of students to see the American Shakespeare Center’s Joan of Arc (1 Henry VI), yesterday (ASC) on Saturday, 3 October 2015. We braved the wind and rain, with the fearless piloting of our heroic driver from Venture Tours, Bill, to go to Staunton despite the weather. (Because our class just read 12th Night, I was wondering if Feste would remind us all,  “with hey, ho, the wind and the rain” that the “rain it raineth every day,” but he didn’t seem to have to deal with flooding…but we were very lucky to be able to make the trip as planned.

We toured the theater in groups, learning about historic performance techniques. We had the privilege of going backstage, into the trap and onstage.

photo by Sharon Rowley

photo by Sharon Rowley

The play was fantastic, filled with action and humor — and not a little scary, which I think was a surprise for some of us. While the entire cast lived up to their hard-earned reputation as some of the best players of Shakespeare in the region (if not in the entire US), Abbi Hawk plays a  particularly dynamic Joan, who calls up some incredibly eerie demons. Her rendition of Joan’s difficult and ambiguous speech at the end of the play heightens the equivocal nature of the lines spoken by her character at this point. She left me puzzling through stages of sympathy, shock and horror at her character’s rapid changes of heart. I found myself rethinking parts of the entire play afterwards, especially the way she is represented as saint, warrior and then witch — all, of course, from the political and ideological perspective of the English.


photo by Sharon Rowley

CNU students hamming it up on “Juliet’s Balcony,” photo by Sharon Rowley

While all plays, arguably, are best experienced in performance, history plays, exemplify why this is true. The ASC’s director and players‘ interpretations in this production turn a complicated script into a riveting live performance, pulling forward the humor, political nuances and intrigue at every turn. Some of our students were lucky enough to be invited to sit on the Gallants’ Seats; hopefully, they — along with others who accompanied me on this day trip —  will comment and share some their experiences. I would like to extend my thanks to the ASC for providing a wonderful, educational and entertaining experience, to Dr. Jean Filetti, Chair of English at CNU for helping to make this trip possible, and to the students and faculty who represented CNU who helped make this trip a fun and exciting event!


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