All Arc and no bite

Maxim Gorki's Je Suis Jeanne d'Arc (Jan 8 and 14), has plenty of ideas to throw at the wall, but precious little of it sticks, leaving the production as little more than a chain of seen-before vignettes that try and fail to shock.

Image for All Arc and no bite
Photo by Esra Rotthoff

Remember that episode of South Park where the characters discover that the arbitrary, zigging and zagging plots of the TV show Family Guy are generated not by writers but by manatees, who push “idea balls” across a tank and into a basket? The Maxim Gorki’s production of Je suis Jeanne D’Arc , an adaptation of Schiller’s Die Jungfrau von Orleans from French director Mikaël Serre, is kind of like that.

The themes of the adaptation seem like useful lenses to view the play: nationalism, religious fanaticism, radicalism, laicité, the movable symbol of Joan of Arc herself. But what ties these together in the production? Clichés too tired to be provocative: a cross made of tube lights, men ripping off their clothes, implied bestiality, confetti. Some of these – including a flat and random Inigo Montoya reference and a simulated manual rape – generated big laughs, making some of us feel strangely proud we’d missed the joke, if totally disconnected from the rest of the audience.

But still… an inscrutable sped-up, autotuned version of Kelis’ “Milkshake” danced by an actor in a cut-out mask of French MP Marine Le Pen? In its attempt to be novel and political, the piece sacrifices nuance for shock. But of course, in Berlin’s theatre landscape, nothing, not even the aforementioned dance number, is shocking. The crispest and most focused moment of the production is when the king and an angel fight for Jeanne as their icon. The king spews anti-immigrant far-right political diatribes, the winged, white-gowned angel quotes jihadist language from what sounds like ISIS web forums. But we’ve seen this image – a shaking, folded young woman argued over by two men – before as well.

JE SUIS JEANNE D’ARC, Jan 8, 14, 19:30 | Maxim Gorki Theater, Am Festungsgraben 2, Mitte, S+U-Bhf Friedrichstr.