Joan of Arc died close to 700 years ago.
But she has something to say to us today, says Toni Press-Coffman.
Press-Coffman is adapting George Bernard Shaw’s “Saint Joan.” Winding Road previews the play Thursday and opens it Friday.
“I don’t want audiences to miss that the conflict that’s going on around her is the same conflict that’s going on right now,” says Press-Coffman, one of the founders of Winding Road.
She particularly sees the parallels with today when it comes to religion.
“There’s a failure to believe that anyone could possibly have a spiritual life that is real and still doesn’t go along with the rules,” she says.
“There is an astonishment that you could have a personal relationship with God at any time.”
Here’s a look at what to expect:
Shaw’s take on the story of Saint Joan: It’s 1429 and a young farm girl, Joan of Arc, hears the voices of Saints Catherine and Margaret, then puts on armor and marches off to Orleans to free it from the hands of the English. Trouble is, the dauphin — the heir to the French throne — is not interested in war or her help, but she’s persuasive and he finally gives her his OK to lead the army.
Joan keeps meeting resistance along the way, but overcomes it and is victorious in battle.
When Joan wants to head off to Paris and reclaim that city from the English, she finds her support has vanished.
Next thing you know, she’s accused of heresy, thanks to those voices she’s heard and her relentless belief in what the voices tell her.
Clearly, she’s a witch. But rather than spend life in a dungeon, never again to see sunlight, she opts for a quick burn at the stake. Trouble is, her heart won’t burn.
A quarter of a century later, she is found innocent of all charges. The play ends in 1920, when Joan is declared a saint and her next challenge faces her.
On adapting Shaw: Press-Coffman knows what a brilliant playwright George Bernard Shaw was. Still, she said, there’s reason to tinker with his words: “I just wanted to heighten what was really contemporary about it, to do some streamlining that brought the humor to the fore,” she says.
“Shaw sometimes gets really busy trying to engage his characters in great debates.”
The adaptation was a scary prospect. This was Shaw she was dealing with — one of the greatest playwrights ever.
“It was intimidating,” says Press-Coffman. “It was daunting.
“He’s very smart and has this ability to make a play about something exceedingly serious, where someone gets burned to death in the end, and still give it humor. He does it very well.”
The players: Taking on the role of Joan is the talented Lucille Petty, who has grown up on Tucson stages and has come to show depth and understanding in her portrayals.
She is backed by Ben Adami, Glen Coffman, David Johnston, Clark Ray, Gary Tyrrell and Steve Wood.
Directing is Susan Arnold, who has a deft hand when it comes to working with actors and bringing material to life.