The Newman Theater at the Public Theater
425 Lafayette St. by Astor Pl.
Tuesday - Sunday through April 30, $120
David Byrne and Alex Timbers have followed up their 2013 extraordinary extravaganza, Here Lies Love, with the very ordinary and chaste Joan of Arc: Into the Fire, which continues at the Public’s Newman Theater through April 30. Here Lies Love followed the adventures of Imelda Marcos in the Philippines; of course, Joan of Arc is a very different kind of woman with a very different story to tell. Into the Fire starts off promising enough: At the front and center of the stage hangs a banner that proclaims, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted,” immediately placing Joan in context with the battles of today’s women, referencing the recent congressional silencing of Sen. Elizabeth Warren reading from a Coretta Scott King letter. The company of ten men begins by asking, “What can one person do?” as a shadow of a mysterious figure grows taller and taller behind the banner until Joan (Jo Lampert) tears it down and stands at the ready to fight for what’s right. But the rest of the show — taking place in the same room where such vastly successful historical musicals as Timbers’s Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton happened — lacks the dazzling innovation and imagination that Byrne and Timbers (and Fatboy Slim) brought to their previous collaboration. The music is uninspiring and the lyrics are surprisingly pedestrian, merely telling the audience what is happening, offering little more than platitudes. “Sir, God reasons not / When he touches your soul / Fight for what you believe / We will send them all home / Look me in the eye / No one wins on their knees / You can do this, I swear / Sir, it’s you that we need,” Joan sings to royal garrison captain Baudricourt (Michael James Shaw).
Joan proves her virginity, cuts off her hair, and disguises herself as a man as she prepares to lead forces to return the Dauphin (Kyle Selig) to his rightful throne. “I’m not a boy and I’m not a girl / The King of Heaven rules my world,” she declares. For some reason, Joan morphs into a punk rocker, clutching a microphone and stand and, dressed in black leather, sings like she’s part of a music video. The guitarists occasionally play right next to her or in small spaces cut out of large, spinning stairs on Christopher Barreca’s curiously ineffective set. (The drummer is off by himself at the upper back of the stage.) Steven Hoggett’s choreography and Darrel Maloney’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-them projections don’t disturb the staid nature of the proceedings. The cast, which also includes Terence Archie as Warwick, Sean Allan Krill as Bishop Cauchon, Mike McGowan as La Tremouille, Mare Winningham as Isabelle, and James Brown III, Jonathan Burke, Rodrick Covington, Adam Perry, and John Schiappa in multiple roles as priests, judges, and soldiers, is often standing around, waiting for the next cue, which can’t come fast enough. It feels all too procedural and chronological, straightforward and direct. Here Lies Love went through a much longer gestation period, beginning as a song cycle, then becoming an all-star album and, eventually, an immersive stage production over a seven-year period. During that show’s run, Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis suggested to Byrne that Joan of Arc might be a good subject for him to tackle next, so perhaps this production was too hastily put together, or it never lit a fire inside the former Talking Heads leader the way the Marcos story did. For the curtain call, Lampert comes out wearing a large white T-shirt that proclaims, “I am not afraid”; the shirts are available for purchase ($30) from Byrne himself in the lobby after the show, with all proceeds going to Planned Parenthood. It’s a cool idea; it’s just too bad that most of Joan of Arc: Into the Fire fails to ignite the same kind of spark.