Asking a Lot

Joan of Arc from the film
Maria Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc

The Passion of Joan of Arc, Carl Dreyer’s 1928 silent-film masterpiece, “is the greatest work of 20th-century art in any medium. The drama is unforgettable.” That’s the opinion of Paul Caldwell, who is conducting the Youth Choral Theater of Chicago in Voices of Light, an oratorio written by Richard Einhorn in response to the unvarnished emotion of the film. Dreyer used historical transcripts and riveting closeups to depict the 1431 trial and execution of the Maid of Orleans for his film-which like Joan was denounced, censored, and burned. The filmmaker pieced together another version from outtakes, but that too was believed to have gone up in flames. However, in 1952, an Italian man found a negative of it-then abused the original by adding everything from images of stained glass to an optical soundtrack. Miraculously, a print of Dreyer’s original was found in a closet at a Norwegian mental institution in 1981 and was restored by the Cinémathèque Française. Resurrected like Joan (who was canonized in 1920), Passion has been touring the country for performances of Einhorn’s Voices of Light, which draws from medieval music and the writings of female mystics as a counterpoint to Joan’s male tormentors-more appropriate than variations on La Marseillaise that accompanied the original. The Chicago performance by the Youth Choral Theater-formerly known as Jubilate-will command a total of 150 voices and instruments to mark the choir’s downtown début using its brand-new name.           
–Anne Spiselman

Voices of Light Feb 10th at 8 p.m. Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph. Tickets $20-$40. 312-334-7777. 

Wright Angles

photograph: Paulina Quintana
craig wright

People who watch TV know Craig Wright has written episodes for Six Feet Under, Lost, and Brothers and Sisters. But away from the “talking lamp” that is television, he’s a playwright who constantly wrestles with big issues. This month, Northlight Theatre presents the world première of Wright’s latest work, Lady. Here’s the play-by-play.

The Play >> Northlight’s artistic director B. J. Jones commissioned Wright’s drama, Lady, in which the friendship of three men on a hunting trip in Southern Illinois is splintered when their hunting dog, the aforementioned Lady, gets lost in the woods.

The Characters >> The friends, who refer to themselves as the Sultans of Swing, are a US congressman, a history teacher, and the owner of a T-shirt manufacturing company. Their seemingly indestructible friendship was forged on a trip to the Boundary Waters where they became horribly lost. But then they had each other. Now, as one character says, “we used to be lost together. Now we’re lost apart.”

The Cast >> New Yorker Paul Sparks plays the teacher; Chicago actors Lance Baker and Michael Shannon portray the congressman and the T-shirt manufacturer, respectively. Wright created the play specifically for Sparks and Shannon-both of whom he’s worked with before. Wright says, “It’s the spirit of our friendship that informs the piece.”

The Politics >> The characters represent various liberal and conservative opinions about the Iraq war and America’s role in the world. Their fissured friendship reaches the breaking point when Lady gets lost in the woods. “She represents the innocent animal desire to live that underlies all the things we do,” Wright says.

The Playwright >> A former seminarian, Wright found that reflective environment a good place to hone his writing skills and to consider existential matters. His plays reflect a seriousness of purpose expressed in wit and crackling dialogue, whether he’s writing about the aftermath of 9/11, fundamentalist Christians, or a life that’s running on empty.
–Lucia Mauro