As I sat to write my review of the Arts Club production of Saint Joan this morning, my thoughts were interrupted, as they often have been in recent days, of Cpl Nathan Cirillo, the young man who lost his life in Ottawa last week. As I contemplated the ultimate sacrifice that this young man, and countless men and women before him including WO Patrice Vincent, have given to our country, I was struck by the similarities between Nathan and Joan.
[pullquote]As I left the Stanley Theatre last night my initial reaction to this production of Saint Joan was that it was solid, led by a terrific performance from Meg Roe in the title role. In the light of day though, I realize that I may have missed an opportunity to see Saint Joan from a more reflective viewpoint for it is not only a solid production, but it is also a catalyst for reflection and remembrance. I may not have wept last night as Jeanne d’Arc was sent to her death, but it has been difficult to control the tears this morning. Life and the stage have intersected both tragically and beautifully. One can’t ask for much more.[/pullquote]Both were driven by a passion. That is an odd word, passion, especially when it relates to something as cold and unforgiving as war, but there is no other way to describe it. For Joan, that passion was in the belief in her quest to rid France of the English, spurred on by a message from god that what she was doing was just and necessary. For our young soldier, that passion may not have come from any divine destiny, but from all accounts his passion for his calling as a member of our military was just as strong.
Both galvanized nations. Given leave to lead the armies of the Dauphin Charles, The Maid of Orléans galvanized both its military and citizens; and even as scholars continue to argue her influence she had on the victories at the time, her resolve and reputation was enough to drive a nation towards victory after having previously tried and failed. Today, the death of Cpl Cirillo has not only brought a nation to its knees in collective mourning, but he has become a rallying cry for our resolve and a stark reminder of the sacrifices that our military men and women must make to ensure the protection of what Canadians hold most dear.
Both brought to focus the dangers of politics and religion. While we continue to wait to find out if Cpl Cirillo’s killer was driven by some twisted ISIS jihad or if he was just a terribly disturbed man, even the current tenuous links have helped to bring into focus the potentially deadly ideologies, like that of Joan’s detractors, that can drive humanity to do horrible things.
Both were heroes. While it may have taken 25 years after her execution at the stake for her charges to be overturned and another 500 to be canonized, there is no question that Saint Joan was, and continues to be, a hero to many. And while he may have never had the opportunity to live his dream of being deployed overseas, in his death Cpl Cirillo has managed to raise the profile of the men and women who serve. Joan may be The Maid of Orléans, but Cpl Cirillo is Canada’s son.
Both were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. Even as Joan willingly went to her death and Cpl Cirillo could never have believed in his wildest nightmares that his life would come to an end as it did, they both knew the risks of war and were willing to sacrifice their very lives for what they believed.
In his epilogue, Shaw asks “when will our world be ready for our saints?” and as director Kim Collier points out in her program notes, that question is not just about Christian saints, but to a simpler and broader question as to our willingness to accept the actions of those striving for change. And while it is a far cry from 15th century France to the War Memorial in our nation’s capital, I am confident that while Nathan and Joan may be vastly different they are both a part of the answer.
As I left the Stanley Theatre last night my initial reaction to this production of Saint Joan was that it was solid, led by a terrific performance from Meg Roe in the title role. In the light of day though, I realize that I may have missed an opportunity to see Saint Joan from a more thoughtful viewpoint, for it is not only a solid production, it is also a catalyst for reflection and remembrance. I may not have wept last night as Jeanne d’Arc was sent to her death, but it has been difficult to control the tears this morning. Life and the stage have intersected both tragically and beautifully. One can’t ask for much more.
Lest we forget.
Vancouver Remembrance Day ceremonies take place beginning at 10am on Tuesday, November 11 at Victory Square (West Hastings & Cambie Street).
Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw. Directed by Kim Collier. An Arts Club Theatre Company production. On stage at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage (2750 Granville St) until November 23. Visit http://artsclub.com for tickets and information.