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STAGE REVIEW : Dahr's Rose-Colored Vision of an Idealized Joan of Arc

January 22, 1988|SYLVIE DRAKE | Times Theater Writer

Everyone, it seems, is fascinated by Joan of Arc.

We've had Maxwell Anderson's Joan. We've had Jean Anouilh's. We've had Shaw's and others. None, arguably, work very well on stage, mostly because Joan is approached with such reverence .

A lot of people, especially actors, would strongly dispute this. Joan, they would tell you, was a peasant. They would quibble over the definition of reverence. But playing Joan with reverence doesn't always mean playing her as a saint. You can play her as a tomboy--as the earthy young girl who tended her father's livestock--and still play her with entirely too much reverence.

Playing with reverence simply means playing with too much awe , whether you're playing Mother Teresa or "The Member of the Wedding's" Frankie Addams.

Norwegian actress Juni Dahr who, over the weekend, opened at the Wallenboyd in her own private view of Joan ("Joan of Arc: Vision Through Fire," the second entry in Pipeline's Foreign Theater Festival), would have done better to give us more of a Frankie Addams character. More real adolescent confusion. She insists that Joan was human--not a saint at all, but a wholesome girl enthralled by her voices. She plays her as a wholesome girl enthralled by her voices.

Enthralled is the problem.

For all of Dahr's textual assurances that Joan was a tomboy "with huge appetites" (we're not told which), she also goes in for such romanticisms as "purple wreaths of clover to wear in my hair" and such overwrought axioms as "the basis of all great work is passion and love."

The problem, however, goes well beyond the perfunctory text (an uninspired mix of original material, Joan's own words and portions of the transcript from her trial). Dahr, who has the ingenuous and arresting good looks of a young Ingrid Bergman, plays Joan with dedicated exaltation. The child/woman is ardently idealized, resulting in a mannered and idiosyncratic performance in which the spoken word is lingered over, fondled, its delivery studied and often punctuated by long, tortured pauses.

The result, by any other name, is reverential. It is always dangerous for an actor to love a character too much and this Joan is no exception. Dahr is under Joan's spell. This interferes with her ability to be dispassionate--or as dispassionate as she would like us to think she is.

Director John Morrow, who staged and co-created this one-person piece, might have supplied some much needed objectivity. He apparently chose instead to go along with the situation. But to allow Dahr's final speeches to become virtually inaudible is less forgivable. That is a matter of craft, not of artistic choice.

A flute accompaniment by Ida Heidel, who occasionally also uses a faint tinkling of bells, pleasantly underscores the action.

Performances at the 301 Boyd St. (corner of Wall and Boyd streets in downtown Los Angeles) run Fridays and Saturdays 8 p.m., with additional Sunday performances Jan. 31 and Feb. 7, 8 p.m., until Feb. 7. Tickets: $10; (213) 629-2205.

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