"D'Arc: Woman On Fire" at Main Stage West, Sebastopol CA

"D’Arc: Woman On Fire"
by Amanda Moody and Jay Cloidt

Main Stage West, Sebastopol CA

Reviewed by Suzanne and Greg Angeo
Photos by Mark Estes

Saints Alive

For some, theatre is entertainment, but for others, it must offer more – a sense of gravitas, enlightenment, provocation, stimulation, revelation. “D’Arc: Woman On Fire” has it all.

Told by means of an abstract musical presentation, it’s the story of a chain of intercession that has its beginning in heaven: Saint Michael the Archangel reaches out to 13th-century teenage French peasant girl Jeanne d’Arc; she in turn reaches out to present-day Joanne, an American woman whose grown daughter has gone missing in a chaotic, faraway land. Saint Joan makes her presence known to mother Joanne - and to us - in uniquely unsettling ways.

After first being presented in its nascent form in January 2006 at the Women On the Way Festival in San Francisco, and going on to performances at other venues, Amanda Moody and Jay Cloidt’s powerful musical score was released on CD in 2009 to critical acclaim. The North Bay premiere of “D’Arc” at Main Stage West (formerly Sonoma Repertory Theater) is a renewed collaboration between playwright/actor/singer Moody and composer Cloidt, joined by noted cellist Elaine Kreston and director Melissa Weaver.

In this newest version of “D’Arc” there are but two performers onstage, Moody and Kreston, supplemented by recorded music and vocals that blend seamlessly. The passionate score plumbs the depths of the human soul and soars with saintly ecstasy in warrior ballads like “Skin of Iron” and “Born In Blood”, the contemplative “Prayers”, the touching “Miracles”, and the wailing gospel of “10,000 Silver Doves”. Most hauntingly unforgettable is “If I Leave the House”, Joanne’s frantic anthem of fear. Musical styles range from blues to classical, from eerie electronic dissonance to what could be Native American spirit music.

The talent is beyond impressive; it’s formidable. Cellist Elaine Kreston’s richly deep chocolate brown tones provide vivid contrast for the fierce gleaming silver of Amanda Moody’s vocals, fully showcasing her four-octave range. Moody’s voice can be insanely shrill, whispery soft, operatically sublime; the roar of a lioness, the shriek of a child. As an actress, she has the difficult task of pivoting from the role of Saint Joan to Joanne and back again, over and over, throughout the 90-minute piece. She is truly superb, as gifted an artist and performer as could be hoped for on any stage, from here to New York to the West End.

Director Missy Weaver chose simple staging, possibly due in part to the narrow confines of the venue. This serves the story well, as it takes place entirely in Joanne’s apartment which has become her prison. The recorded sound coordination by director Weaver and technician Brendan Aanes is perfectly synchronized with the performers onstage. The light effects by technician April George cast stark shadows and blazing colors on Joanne’s world.

After all is seen and heard, the final blessing from Saint Joan to Joanne is unclear, although one gets the sense that Joanne learns to face her own reality fortified by the warrior maiden’s courage. She can finally emerge from her shell, literally and figuratively, to carry on in our frightening world.

“D’Arc: Woman On Fire” burns fiercely bright, a gift to those who appreciate original musical performance and unconventional storytelling.

When: Now through June 5, 2011
8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
2 p.m. Sundays
Tickets: $15 to $20
Location: Main Stage West Theater
104 N Main Street, Sebastopol CA
Phone: 707-823-0177
Website: www.mainstagewest.com