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Review: MOTHER OF THE MAID Packs a Bravura Performance at Main Street

Now running through February 27th

Review: MOTHER OF THE MAID Packs a Bravura Performance at Main Street MOTHER OF THE MAID from playwright Jane Anderson offers a new take on the Joan of Arc legend by showing us a familiar narrative through the eyes of a parent. It's something most treatments have left out altogether, and it's a fascinating way to place "new eyes" onto the Maid of Orléans. Main Street Theater has mounted a well-acted and handsomely produced regional premiere that will have audiences intrigued and debating long after they view this production. There is much to admire with this one, and it's well worth visiting the theater in Rice Village to bear witness to its charms.

The play's themes about being a guardian of Joan of Arc feed into a myriad of tropes that could apply to modern day issues. You have a mother faced with a rebellious teen who insists on carving her own path, and declares she will do so dressed as a man. It's easy to ascribe a common struggle for parents faced with the youth of today who challenge all definitions of gender and sexual politics. There are touches of the struggle of women not being believed by male counterparts, and fighting to have their voices heard above a roar of toxic masculinity whether it be kings, soldiers, priests, or fathers. I overheard a fellow theater-goer discussing the play's insidious message about religious fervor and its ability to influence politics and wars. There are many directions and angles to look at in this thought-provoking work. It's delivered simply and straight-forward without much embellishment. Main Street Theater tackles this show without any hint of dialect or French accents. It is a wise move given the script is a mix of common vernacular with only hints of its cultural origins thrown in.

Shannon Emerick's portrayal of Isabelle Arc is the performance on which MOTHER OF THE MAID hinges, and she manifests a miracle consisting of fully-realized characterization and range. Rarely will you see an actress wholly embody a role so fully and disappear completely into another person. If I had to boil down one solid reason to buy a ticket it would be solely to watch this tour de force of an acting turn. She offers up a lot of depth, and carries every scene with a steady grace that is rare in most actresses.

Her supporting cast is strong, although the script doesn't flesh out the rest of the characters as well. Dain Geist's father is explosive and angry most of the running time. Geist infuses some levels where he can, but he delivers this performance almost wholly in the heat of anger or disdain. Elizabeth Barnes showcases a mysteriously different interpretation of Joan of Arc than we normally see. Most productions present her as mature, spiritually informed, and very strong-willed, but this actress plays a sweet and innocent version that reads more as a young girl than above all else. This could be in service of the idea of the play being told from a mother's point of view, a case in which we never truly see our children as grown and independent. Other standouts include Michele Harrell who is a wonderfully sophisticated yet empathetic Lady of the Court. Dwight Clark makes the most of his handful of roles, and infuses each with a unique spark each and every time he enters. Jacob Sanders is convincing as an older brother, but seems tripped sometimes by the script when it veers into complex passages. Finally Caitlin Meaux rounds out the cast as a beautiful presence in her court servant appearances.

Main Street Theater always offers a technical confidence rarely seen in houses of its size. MOTHER OF THE MAID is no exception, although the sets are more simplified than usual and the lighting and sound are kept stripped down in service of the singularly direct script. What struck me most this time were the beautifully executed costumes by Macy Lyne. Whether it was a dirty mud-soaked sack of a dress or a court costume, each note was hit well by the clothing presented onstage. It was a great effort to recreate the period so beautifully without missteps.

We don't often think about Joan of Arc from many other viewpoints than her own, and rarely do we consider the ramifications on her family that raised her as the events of her short life unfurled. MOTHER OF THE MAID is a strong reminder that even the saints had parents, and we often forget what their plight must have been in the shadow of their offspring. Shannon Emerick shines as the lead, and heads up the show with one of Houston's strongest theatrical performances in quite a while.

MOTHER OF THE MAID runs at Main Street Theater in Rice Village through February 27th. There are in-person as well as streaming options for patrons. COVID protocols require proof of vaccination or a recent COVID test, and patrons are asked to wear masks throughout the entire runtime while inside the auditorium. More information and tickets are available through their website located at .

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