Martyrs’ Crossing, written by playwright Melissa Leilani Larson, currently playing at The Echo Theatre in Provo is a beautiful story! Any work of art that depicts heaven as a library is bound to make an impression on the likes of this theater lover. Well, not heaven in so much as the place “in-between” heaven and earth where spirits who have been called to earthly missions reside.
As the historians (a Greek chorus if you will) of this production proclaim in the beginning scenes, we hear much about the life of Joan of Arc but we rarely hear about the voices or spirits who guided her on her journey.
Martyrs’ Crossing is told from the perspective of Joan’s saints, Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret, who are spirits in the afterlife and have been sent to Joan to assist her in a mission to lead the French army to victory in several historic and important battles during The Hundred Years War.
Joan, played by Mari Toronto is a perfect mixture of youthful innocence and steadfast strength. To be pure of heart and a messenger from God, one has to have just the right balance of humbleness and courage. Toronto did an excellent job delivering the emotions of doubt and fear right along side unapologetic defiance of the English.
Her saints Catherine (Anna Hargadon) and Margaret (Ronnie Anderson Stringfellow) could very easily have been stereotypical angels (so to speak) but playwright and actors alike differentiated the two with great care. Catherine is more involved and struggles to let Joan learn and fail on her own where Margaret tries to teach and stand back, allowing Joan to grow. Both women approach Joan differently but both emanate a great love for their charge.
Larson’s words are fluid and poetic. Her story is captivating and the nearly 2 hour run time soared by with just the right amount of suspense and insight into this world. Director Brighton Nicole Sloan paced the show just as well, keeping it engaging at the same time allowing for the important moments to settle before rushing forward.
This cast of three strong women is balanced out beautifully with 5 solid men as Saint Michael (Doug Johnsen) and the Historians (sometimes playing roles of kings and soldiers) – Stephen Geis, Adam Argyle, John Valdez and William Nielson McAllister. Johnsen was calm and serene and certainly commanded reverence while on stage. From historical information being deployed in sparse and smooth rhythm to the dynamic sword (Adam Argyle) fight the 4 men contrasted their heavenly counterparts grounding the production in earthly reality.
Equally impressive in this production is the space itself, a small and rustic theater with wood floors, The Echo Theatre draws you in with warmth and intimacy. The lighting (Casey Price) as well as the sound and music (Jason Sullivan and Julianna Blake) brought a great deal to this show. What could have simply been a beautiful story with strong talent became a theatrical and dramatic work supplemented with the glorious lighting of miracles, warmth and calmness during prayer and dark and empty prison cells.
And I would be amiss if I failed to mention the beautiful and well crafted costume design by Lara Beene. Costumes, when done poorly can ruin a show but when done wonderfully are often overlooked because they allow the story to shine and complement the work! From the heavier garments of the the Saints showcasing glory to the simple choices made for the Historians, every piece highlighted each character and served its purpose – they told a story!
A truly impressive and beautiful work from all those involved. Martyrs’ Crossing is not to be missed.
Martyrs’ Crossing is running through December 15th at The Echo Theatre in Provo. More information and tickets can be purchased through their website.