Of the handful of FringeNYC 2010 shows I’ve seen so far, the first one to merit a full-length review, to my mind, has been Pamela Wilkinson’s adaptation of Friedrich Schiller’s 1801 drama about Joan of Arc. The recent, widely praised London/Broadway production of Mary Stuart has fanned interest in Schiller, and Ms. Wilkinson and the Demimonde Theatre & Opera Company are to be commended for bringing a new production of The Maid of Orleans to New York audiences via Fringe.
This adaptation is no straight translation; rather, it’s an unusual mix of drama and opera, during which the cast sings several well-placed selections from I Capuleti e i Montecchi, Bellini’s operatic retelling of Romeo and Juliet. The quality of the production is high in some areas while leaving a good deal to be desired in others, and the music is one of the best aspects. Ethereal soprano Gudrun Buhler digs into the title role, speaking with appropriately unearthly cadences and singing beautifully. Dylan Bandy gives Lionel, the British lord, lovely voicing as well, bearing a good deal of the show’s musical weight, though her spoken lines tended to get swallowed by the large (for Fringe) theater; Valencia Pleasant too shines in a smaller but important role. The slow-motion stylized fight scene near the end, during which the company sings “Soccorso, sostegno accordagli,” captivates with dreamy pathos, and the Bandy/Buhler duet of “Ah, crudel, d’onor raggioni” approaches the sublime.
But uneven acting uncercuts the production, and especially ruinous is the terrible miscasting of Karim Mazarou as the King. He seems weak and lost in his lines, making his Court’s loyalty and near-worship seem nonsensical, and he’s not helped by a poorly enunciating Kellen Lopes as his wife. I know that English is not the first language for a number of the cast members, and perhaps they need more time to get comfortable with their lines; as it stands, the result in far too many scenes is a painfully amateurish quality. Ms. Wilkinson’s direction, in the spoken scenes especially, lacks vibrancy as well.
There are bright spots in some of the other roles, especially the droll Matt Coonrod as the loyal Duchatel, and the sparkling Elizabeth Bove as the duplicitous Queen Mother. But the production needs much more work before it’s ready to venture beyond the Fringe. Never having seen any version of this play before, I’m glad I went. But as a complete presentation, it was a disappointment.