‘Saint Joan’ Broadway Review: Condola Rashad Burns Up the Stage

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Sightings of the world’s most popular transgender saint have become an annual event in New York’s theater world. The latest appearance is one of the most vivid we faithful have received of late. Condola Rashad is strong, tough and more than a little nuts in George Bernard Shaw’s “Saint Joan,” which opened Wednesday at MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.

Rashad does not turn Joan into John, but her maid of Orleans looks as though she could wallop any of the 17 men in the cast. With some help from heels and buoyant hair, she matches, if not exceeds, the height of the guys around her. Only John Glover’s Archbishop towers over her. Then again, under his robes, like so many men in their priestly drag, he too may be wearing high heels.

On the New York stage, Rashad has been more successful in contemporary dramas (“A Doll’s House, Part 2” and “Stick Fly”) than Shakespeare (“Romeo and Juliet” and “Taming of the Shrew”). Shaw is somewhere between the two, and she pulls “Saint Joan” into this century with a performance that is both ironic and wide-eyed. That wonderful contradiction, between being informed and foolish, galvanizes the production, and makes her irresistible to watch.

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Director Daniel Sullivan has achieved similar comedic alchemy with Adam Chanler-Berat’s dunce of a Dauphin, who rules with his eyes wide shut, and achieves our sympathy by being so thoroughly self-centered.

It’s the 15th century, and yet Jack Davenport, in his magnificent Broadway debut, manages to seem utterly contemporary in his machinations to have the cross-dressing Joan burned at the stake. In another of those wonderful contradictions, he makes evil attractively commonplace.

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Nothing is ever commonplace when Patrick Page is on stage. With his inimitable bass voice and striking presence, he is one actor who never should be double cast. He first appears as Robert de Baudricourt, the maid’s first stepping stone to fame. He introduces her to the Dauphin, and is agreeable to Joan’s demands, mainly because Robert’s tired of the girl’s harping and needling him.

When Page reappears much later as the Inquisitor himself, it’s impossible to get his Robert out of your head. How did this good guy turn bad so fast? Regardless, the actor delivers the play’s standout moment. Page, taking his lowest-of-low bass to its very sonorous depths, persuades with his speech on the mercy of persecuting heretics. It’s a perfectly perverse moment.

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The only actor who appears not to have received Sullivan’s memo on irony is Daniel Sunjata. His straight-forward Dunois is right out of Robert E. Sherwood, not anything written by George Bernard Shaw.

Scott Pask’s set turns the stage into a huge pipe organ. Jane Greenwood’s costumes look like something from a touring production of “Spamalot.” There’s visual humor at work here, but unlike most of the performers, both designers miss the mark.

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‘Kings’ Review: Halle Berry & Daniel Craig Can’t Save Tone-Deaf Movie Set During 1992 L.A. Riots

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On paper, a teaming of Oscar winner Halle Berry and James Bond himself, Daniel Craig, in a drama set during the 1992 L.A. riots would seem promising. Unfortunately, Kings is the polar opposite of that expectation and, as I say in my video review (click…

‘Kings’ Film Review: Halle Berry Drama Gives a Female Perspective to LA Riots

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Kathryn Bigelow is no longer the only female, non-African-American director to make a new movie about a major black uprising in an inner city. Bigelow and “Detroit” have been joined by Turkish-French director Deniz Gamze Erguven, whose new film “Kings” deals with the 1992 Los Angeles riots that began when four LAPD officers were acquitted in the videotaped beating of Rodney King.

Like “Detroit,” “Kings” drops us in the middle of a conflagration caused by years of harsh treatment and growing anger — and like “Detroit,” it mixes in news footage from the time to tell the story of bystanders swept up into a maelstrom of violence.

But Erguven, whose film “Mustang” landed an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film two years ago, is not after the kind of visceral filmmaking in which Bigelow specializes. She focuses on the story of a single family: Millie, played by Halle Berry, and the large group of kids and foster kids whom she struggles to feed and clothe in her modest South Central house.

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“Mustang,” which followed young Turkish sisters whose innocent play with neighborhood boys leads to their strict grandmother and uncle essentially locking them in the house until they’re ready for arranged marriages, showcased Erguven’s skill at bringing a light touch to heavy material. What rang true in “Mustang” was the relationship between the girls, a vibrant playfulness that shone through the restrictions and allowed the audience to accept and rejoice in what was essentially a fairy-tale ending.

In “Kings,” Erguven once again is at her best in sketching the bonds that tie a spirited, screeching, often joyous household together. We don’t quite know how Millie manages to wrangle this brood, but we see the love that allows her to do so — and when Ollie (Daniel Craig), a reclusive neighbor and the only white man in the ‘hood, quickly turns from a shotgun-toting crank to a kindly protector, we almost see why he does it.

It’s tricky, though, to maintain that light touch and to glory in this rambunctious household when the kids’ outings include a giddy shoplifting spree at the local market and then, when the riots hit, an even giddier foray to loot the local megastore. The older kids, meanwhile, find themselves in even darker situations, as the first night of rioting turns nightmarish on many different levels.

Still, it’s not so nightmarish that Millie and Ollie don’t find time to sneak a kiss while trying to escape from being handcuffed around a light pole, in a moment that that vies with Millie’s sex dream as the film’s least convincing.

Also Read: ‘Mustang’ Director Likens Movies From Female Perspective to ‘Pioneer Territory’

Erguven remains skilled at portraying the joyous messiness of family ties, and an almost-de-glammed Berry is a heroine to root for. But while “Mustang” hit a sweet spot for the director, “Kings” feels like a stretch for the director, appealing at times and disappointing at others.

Although Erguven had the film in the works before she even made her last film, the subject of the L.A. riots is a tough nut to crack. That may be particularly true in this 25th anniversary year, which has already seen more than half a dozen impressive documentaries about the event.

“Kings” has a new take on the much-documented event, but it simply doesn’t feel as fresh or as essential as it should.

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