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Oakland teenage protesters seek shelter from the George Floyd marches in Lisa Ramirez’s searing one-acter at the Oakland Theater Project. One of them answers to the name Jean Dark, or it is Jeanne d’Arc?
Although she was burned at the stake in 1431, the legend of St. Joan, Jeanne d’Arc, the soldier/heroine of France during the Hundred Years’ War, still resonates intensely today. Theologians, writers, composers, artists, playwrights, filmmakers, physicians and scholars continue to debate her visions, bravery and sanity. George Bernard Shaw wrote one of his best dramas about her, entitled St. Joan. That play is so admired and timely that Michael Socrates Moran (the Oakland Theater Project’s co-founder and co-artistic director) suggested it as OTP’s final 2021 production. But Lisa Ramirez (The Wasteland) had the righteous idea to reimagine the Joan of Arc story in the tumultuous present, and so wrote sAiNt jOaN (burn/burn/burn).
As the play begins, amid the smoky teargas, piercing police sirens, and the deafening uproar accompanying the George Floyd protests in Oakland, five local teenagers escape into a warehouse filled with devotional religious candles. Shocked by the chaos and exhausted by their efforts, they gradually start to breathe evenly and introduce themselves.
There are two Black sisters, the older and strident Bell (Success Ufondu) and her more temperate younger sister Angie (Metsehafe Eyob), Sabra (Daniela Cervantes), originally from Guatemala, and May (Charlotte Ying Levy), whose father is an Oakland police officer.
And then there is the inexplicable, beatific-looking Jean Dark, a trans character who carries several books about Joan of Arc; they see and hear things the others don’t. They acknowledge being treated for mental health issues throughout their life and seem unfamiliar with George Floyd. The audience has viewed Jean wandering as if in a trance before the play began. It’s as though Jean has fortuitously drifted into the warehouse.
The tension and volume remain elevated during the 55-minute performance as the group quarrels angrily about the injustices that befall them and affect them personally — Black Lives Matter, the brutality of Oakland police, climate change, white privilege. Playwright Ramirez’s intensely realistic language and Michael Socrates Moran’s excellent direction make the high-pitched, lifelike clashes appear natural, as the teenagers continuously interrupt each other. When Jean’s sacrificial gesture serves to unite them, the five realize that they have more in common than they had recognized and that, as Angie says, they have “bonded.”
With outstanding performances by all the young actors, sAiNt jOaN (burn/burn/burn) is a veneration of today’s youth.
sAiNt jOaN (burn/burn/burn) is playing at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday-Sunday through Dec. 19 (except for Thursday-Friday, Nov. 25-26) at The Flax Building, 1501 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Oakland. All attendees must present proof of vaccination or negative test and wear a mask. Seating is socially distanced. General admission tickets are $25-$35 (seating assigned upon arrival to the theater), priority tickets with reserved seats are $50, and pay-what-you-can tickets ($10-$20) will be available for every performance. All tickets will be sold online until two hours before each performance. Go to the theater’s website or call 510-646-1126 for more information.