Fringe 2017 – – Mad Fantastic Maid of God: Joan of Arc: Review by GRAHAM HICKS  3.5 of 5 stars

Mad Fantastic Maid of God: Joan of Arc

Venue 36, “L’unitheatre at La Cite Francophone,
8627 91 St. (Rue Marie Anne Gaboury)

Thurs. Aug. 17 – 8 p.m.
Fri. Aug. 18 – 5 p.m.
Sat. Aug. 19 – 7 p.m.
Mon. Aug. 21 – 7:15 p.m.
Tues. Aug 22 – 6:15 p.m.
Wed. Aug. 23 – 3:45 p.m.
Fri. Aug. 25 – 2 p.m.
Sun. Aug. 27 – 4.45 p.m.

3.5 of 5 stars

THEATrePUBLIC/Polema Productions

Duration 55 minutes

Not a bad show from prolific Edmonton playwright/director Ken Brown, who often writes new plays premiered at the Fringe and had consequently developed a strong and loyal following. 

But Mad Fantastic is not a Ken Brown classic, not like Life After Hockey or the Spiral Dive Trilogy, not by any means.

The idea is a strong one – a narrative/meditation of the life of historical/Christian legend Joan of Arc, who as a teenager in the 15th century, inspired by saintly visions, led the French army to victories against the English invaders before being captured and burned at the stake by English allies in collusion with her many enemies. 

Joan is played by rising Edmonton actor Melissa Leanne Blackwood, who has had strong roles at the Citadel Theatre of late. Ellie Heath plays the wise-cracking commentator, plus a host of other characters. 

One is never quite sure, and neither are the actors, of the play’s point of view.  Or perhaps the problem is Brown is trying to reflect all points of view – Joan of Arc as a misguided farm girl, a visionary, guided by talking saints, driven by misguided ego … or simply mad?  Consequently Blackwood spends most of her time as Joan howling at the wind and the fates. Ultimately it’s a passionate, but one-dimensional portrait of one of the first heroines of medieval Europe. 

More difficult was Heath as a very modern, cheerfully sardonic 21st Century commentator – starting off pre-show up n a balcony, off-handedly jesting with the audience. It's an interesting theatrical tool on Brown’s part – to insert a modern observer on the scene 600 years ago – but it ended up being often garish and annoying; Heath as commentator/character was continually playing to the audience with wink-winks, raised eyebrows, and skeptical tones of voice. 

Mad Fantastic Maid of God might have been far more effective is Brown had been content to let the story tell itself,  instead of cluttering it up with all the embellishments and points of view and having Joan keep pounding the same anguished narrative nails over and over.

Still, it was an interesting hour of good theatre. Brown is a fearless writer, continually challenging himself with a diversity of subjects and styles, almost always combining pathos and entertainment.  You follow him every year at the Fringe because, no matter what, he’ll offer up a theatrical package that’s intriguing and mentally stimulating.