"Perhaps her story is more important now than ever," the program asserts, belaboring the obvious point that, were Joan of Arc (Katie Shepard) having her visions and storming Europe today, she would become a pop icon like Kelly Osbourne. E! would follow her every costume change, and the History Channel would document the bigger picture. Joan the Maid even gives Charles VII (Sean Jeffries) a Behind the Music special of his own, allowing him to bitterly lament that he ever met the girl.
Directed energetically by Kara Armstrong, the show is infused with talented people's ideas. Keira Blanchard's set design consists of a platform backed by a large video screen with two bands on either side serving as bookends. Writer Michael Smith and composer Jen Appell are thankfully young enough to know that their contemporaries like things concise; they've shaved two hours off the three-hour story staged at the Missouri Repertory Theatre last fall. Georgianna Londre's costumes are so varied that it appears as if she has looted a textile museum (or Todd Haynes' film The Velvet Goldmine). And Zach Christman's film work, which includes scenes of Paris during its Nazi invasion and a collage of images from classic horror movies, engages the eye while putting Joan's repellent fate in perspective.
But it seems to take the troupe 45 minutes to warm up to the creators' inspirations; only in the last quarter of the show does everything jell. Shepard plays Joan as the eternal outcast ("She was the most pious girl," complains one of her early enemies) who, through a triumph of will, becomes a star -- a Medieval Alanis Morissette. Though Shepard's vocals are a tad jarring and her acting a bit wan, she becomes a sympathetic figure at the conclusion of her trial. When she is finally burned at the stake in a special effect that combines video and a tube of flame-colored material, there's a hint of sadness as yet another pop star is destroyed by her fickle public.
A song toward the end -- it might be called "Hollow Wallow" -- brashly summarizes Joan's rise and fall. Yet again, the audience is reminded that fame is ethereal, or like an Ebola virus that eats you from the inside out. But there's no other point of view. Perhaps another Princess Squid production will tackle deeper issues and lose the naivete that thinks you can say fuck a lot and be edgy.