‘Saint Joan’ runs through June 10 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St., manhattantheatreclub.com
George Bernard Shaw, the Irish playwright and critic best known for controversial and discursive dramas tackling complicated social issues such as “Mrs. Warren’s Profession,” “Major Barbara” and “Arms and the Man,” is making an especially strong showing on Broadway this season.
On the heels of Lincoln Center Theater’s acclaimed revival of “My Fair Lady” (which is based on Shaw’s 1913 comedy of manners “Pygmalion”), Manhattan Theatre Club is presenting a straightforward, generally effective production of his 1923 tragedy “Saint Joan” with three-time Tony nominee Condola Rashad (“A Doll’s House, Part 2,” the Showtime series “Billions”) as Joan of Arc.
Written shortly after Joan’s canonization by the Roman Catholic Church (five centuries after she was burned at the stake), Shaw takes a contrarian, decidedly unromantic look at Joan, depicting her as unrealistic and relentless and the church and royal court officials involved in her trial and execution as practical and rational-minded.
Director Daniel Sullivan (“The Little Foxes”) incorporates a questionable design concept in which a simple, gold-tinted set (intended to evoke stately church bells) is contrasted with traditional, tacky-looking medieval garb.
The play (which includes scenes of long-winded debate and runs approximately three hours in length) moves slowly and has some dry points. But more often than not, Shaw’s analytical vigor keeps the audience’s attention. It makes you long for the kind of robust political discourse that has gone missing today, when policy is made on impulse and by tweet.
Sporting an androgynous look, Rashad has a secure grasp on Shaw’s rhetoric and presents Joan as unfazed (even under questioning and hardship) and resolute (unwilling or unable to make the concessions necessary to save her life).
She is joined by a strong, all-male supporting cast including Adam Chanler-Berat (“Peter and the Starcatcher”) as the helpless and anxious Dauphin and Daniel Sunjata (“Take Me Out”), Walter Bobbie (best known today as a director), John Glover (“Waiting for Godot”) and Patrick Page (“Spider-Man”) as various other figures.