Heavy ‘Laughter’ at Moe

By Jake Saunder

Heroine icon Joan of Arc is coming back to life to live her final moments again.

The resurrection can be seen this weekend at the Moe Theater, as SIU’s theater department presents “Joan’s Laughter.” The drama focuses on Joan’s final hour alive before she was burned. “Laughter,” written by SIU theater history and playwriting professor Jacob Juntunen, features the talents of Matlyn Rybak, a freshman from Hebron, Ind. studying theater. Rybak said the play’s inspiration came from an experience Juntunen had in Europe.

“I have bi-polar disorder and I was in Europe without knowing that,” he said. “So (I was) un-medicated and was in a very depressive state and I was very comforted by a statue of Joan of Arc in Notre Dame.”


Juntunen said inspiration struck in 2000 and he worked the plot and characters for many years.

“It took a long time for the plot to form and the characters to form, but eventually what I realized I wanted to write about was the sense of abandonment,” he said.

The sense of abandonment, how Joan of Arc must have felt in the moments leading up to her death, is a palpable theme the audience can relate to, Juntunen said. After he wrote the piece, the Chicago Side Project Theatre performed it — medieval scholars attended the performance and appreciated the authenticity, he said.

“There were years just thinking about (the piece), but once the actual pen to paper started, I did a lot of research to try and make it historically accurate,” he said.

Guest director Megan Smith will head the performances. Smith is the Chicago Sideshow Theatre Company’s executive director and director of corporate relations at Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago.

“There was actually another reading that was held at Megan’s theater,” Juntunen said. “I had a lot of chances to see it with different casts and different settings.”

This is Smith’s first time directing the piece. She said it has been an interesting adventure to maintain her day job at the Steppenwolf Theatre while making the commute to SIU and directing for the first time in a university setting.


“The responsibilities are slightly different, partly because … here, it is very much focused on educating or training the actors, the production team and designers,” she said. “Are they getting the experience they need and how can I, as the director, help facilitate and enrich the experience of that for them?”

Smith said working with SIU theater provides her a great level of freedom.

“It’s been very rewarding to work with student actors because they’re smart and ambitious and they’re fresh,” she said. “But they’re also kind of green, so I like to figure out what they’ve learned already and then maybe pieces that they haven’t learned yet.”

The play is set in a more conceptual and impressionistic world, as opposed to literal, and may present a rather unusual take on stereotypical prison scenes, she said.

“I have not worked with any actor here prior to this play,” she said. “I just want to give the audience the most truthful experience of the play possible.”

Smith said she believes the actors will be able to portray authentic and relatable characters. Rybak, the play’s lead actress, said demanding characterization is one of the reasons she loves performing.

“I’ve never experienced such an emotionally angry and desperate role, as portraying Jacob’s Joan demands, and I’ve never been held to the professional expectations Megan Smith requires,” Rybak said.

Rybak said there is an amazing trust between herself, the writer and director, which helps make the role more powerful.

“I have been honored from the very beginning,” she said. “I feel I have learned so much from working alongside my extremely talented and patient cast mates and director. I hope I can make them proud with this production.”

“Joan’s Laughter” will run at 7:30 p.m. April 3-5 and at 2 p.m. April 6 in the Moe Theater. Tickets will be $6 for students and $16 for non-students.

Jake Saunders can be reached at [email protected]on Twitter @saundersfj or by phone at 536-3311 ext. 254.