Review: In ‘Joan,’ a Photographer Tries to Focus Her Past | Modern Society of USA

Review: In ‘Joan,’ a Photographer Tries to Focus Her Past

Review: In ‘Joan,’ a Photographer Tries to Focus Her Past

For a play devoted to the ever-elusive mysteries of human existence, Stephen Belber’s “Joan” is remarkably transparent. The title character of this tedious grade-school-to-grave drama, a photographer portrayed by Johanna Day, is said to take pictures that “hide as much as they reveal” about her personality.

That, in any case, is the opinion of a smitten but baffled lover, who goes on to observe of Joan’s photographs, “It’s like they give us a true part of you, but only a part.” From the perspective of the audience at Here, where “Joan” opened on Sunday night in a Colt Coeur production, the view is considerably more comprehensive, though seldom very illuminating.

That ultimate, bald openness is true to form for Mr. Belber. As evidenced in earlier teasing, enigma-centered works that include “Match” (seen in a 2004 Broadway production starring Frank Langella) and “Tape” (which became a 2001 Richard Linklater movie starring Ethan Hawke), his riddles usually aren’t very hard to decipher.

With his latest offering, the riddle is life itself — and particularly, life for someone finding her way through the contradictory directives for being a woman in the 20th and 21st centuries. Directed with admirable clarity by Adrienne Campbell-Holt, “Joan” leapfrogs through time to connect the dots that define its restless, ever-questing protagonist. She is also exceptionally articulate, if seriously verbose, and banters her way through a series of relationships with family members, friends, lovers and strangers (all portrayed by a nimble Adam Harrington and Marjan Neshat).

As a child, Joan sees God (in the form of a woman who resembles her father’s former secretary) in her backyard, and talks the deity into her point of view. As a teenager roving through Europe, she yearns to capture those fleeting moments of “humanity’s rawness wherein lies truth.” (In “Joan,” purple excess is the lingua franca.)

As a grown woman, she goes through an assortment of jobs and lovers, covers the plight of women in Pakistan as a war photographer and becomes a single mother. All the while the person she remains closest to is her beloved younger brother, Charlie, who tells her, “You never alight, Joan. … You need to land. That’s where life actually takes place.”

Then again, Joan was urged by her mother, who walked out on the family to join an ashram, to grab “the bird by its wing, letting it help you soar.” People always seem to be offering Joan contradictory, poetically fraught advice about how to live. No wonder the poor woman is conflicted.

Despite its scrambled, globe-trotting chronology — and a simple, all-purpose set (by Andrew Moerdyk) that offers few visual clues as to time and place — “Joan” is easy to follow. As usual, Mr. Belber provides snappy dialogue that recalls an era of Hollywood movies when even the dimmest characters could come up with an epigram or two.

If only the inhabitants of “Joan” weren’t quite so fond of metaphors, which tend only to underline what we’ve already figured out. The recurring poetic motifs include a tall woodpile, based on the one in which Joan and Charlie perch as children to imagine their future, that is recycled too industriously.

Source link