A single flame wanders in the dark before the lights go up on L. Frank Baum (Ric Walker), the phantasmal narrator of Joan and the Gentleman Juggler– a delightful blur of unlikely friendship and good old-fashioned spectacle. Performed as part of the 9th Annual Living Literature Festival at the Metropolitan Playhouse in New York City, Joan was written and produced by the Adventure Collective (Gabrielle Sinclair, Thom Wall and Walker). While humorous, Joan manages to illustrate the importance of individuality and the struggles of remaining true to one’s calling.
After waking up in the afterlife, Baum sets the stage for the meeting of our nonconformist heroes, proto-feminist and Quaker Anna Elizabeth Dickinson (Sinclair) and strongman gentleman juggler Paul Cinquevalli (Wall). Despite their distance, these kindred spirits share the desire to rebel against their status quo and express themselves in their own terms.
Moreover, Sinclair does a brilliant job of bringing Dickinson, called America’s Joan of Arc, to life. Sinclair deftly infuses her performance with an air of such sweet vulnerability, of earnest optimism and heartfelt determination that it is hard not to fall in love with oddball Anna.
Wall shines as the famed Polish juggler, basing his tricks on Cinquevalli’s own pamphlets. With true Vaudevillian showmanship, Wall made the extraordinary seem effortless. A visual treat, at one point Wall managed to balance two billiard balls (separated by a wedding ring) on top of a pool cue–resting on another billiard ball in a sherry glass in his mouth.
Always charming, the cast of Joan manages a delightful rapport with the audience. This interaction that creates a warm depth to the minimalist production, enabling the crowd to experience the physical and allegorical mountains that the characters traverse. The trio illustrate that nothing–not gender (the great accident of birth), familial and societal disapproval, nor even shuffling off this mortal coil–can stop one from following their heart.
Review by Steff Sanchez