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Theater: Sham Saint

2 minute read

Judith strips myth down to Freudian psychology and debunks belief with Shavian iconoclasm—the tactics by which modern man burglarizes himself of an agelong heritage of mystery. In this 34-year-old play, revived by APA-at-the-Phoenix, the late French Playwright Jean Giraudoux, an urbane, witty, and ironic second-story man of ideas, remains true to his dramatic creed: Be clever and let who will be good.

The apocryphal Judith was a pious and beautiful Jewish widow who got the Assyrian commander Holofernes drunk in his tent, cut off his head and saved the people of Israel. Giraudoux’s Judith, enchantingly played by Rosemary Harris, is a rich, pampered, articulate minx who means to sacrifice her virginity as an act of personal grandeur. The total modernity of heroine and play is that Judith is as brimful of self-consciousness as she is barren of faith. In a moment of mortal peril among enemy underlings, she calls on Holofernes, not Jehovah, to save her.

Far from being a barbarous monster, Holofernes (Paul Sparer) is Shaw’s Caesar, an aphoristic philosopher-king who erotically brainwashes the girl. She swoon-dives into his bed, only to knife him to death at dawn (Giraudoux’s style forbids a gory beheading). Judith’s romantic rationale for the killing is that love was bound to be blunted by repetition or betrayed by neglect.

The chauvinistic, miracle-mongering high rabbis will hear nothing of this apostasy of fleshly bliss, and in an ambiguous ending, Judith either embraces or resigns herself to the duplicity of her sainthood. If Shaw, in Saint Joan, implies that saints are too pure a currency for the world, Giraudoux, with a more sardonic vision, suggests that they are the world’s counterfeit coins.

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