BWW Review: MOTHER OF THE MAID at Marin Theatre Company is dramatization of the life of Joan of Arc as seen through the eyes of her mother.
Mother of the Maid
Written by Jane Anderson
Directed by Jasson Minadakis
Marin Theatre Company
Stories involving difficult mother-daughter relationships are not uncommon and make for great dramatic fare; think Mamma Mia! Terms of Endearment, August Osage County and Lady Bird. What is beautifully unique in this West Coast premiere of Jane Anderson's Mother of the Maid is her heart wrenching concentration on the mother's perspective as she grapples with a whirlpool of maternal instincts; unconditional love, protection, pride and fear. Anderson's protagonist is Isabelle Arc, mother of Joan, a headstrong teen prone to saintly visions who would become a famous historical figure after her gruesome death.
Its fifteenth century Domrémy in northeast France. Isabelle, played with exquisite emotional sincerity by Sherman Fracher, lives in a farmhouse with her husband Jacques, son Pierre and daughter Joan. Life is tough, their neighbors were slaughtered by the English, the days are hard and long with little reward. Isabelle breaks the fourth wall to deliver exposition on her life and family, telling us that "motherhood is a numbers game" when speaking of her dead child.
Introspective Joan has received holy visions of St. Catherine that reveal her destiny is to lead the French army to victory over the English. Rosie Hallett plays Joan with a strident confidence fostered by a deep faith she's inherited from her mother. Joan's belief is so strong that it convinces Isabelle, who's support of her daughter will both fulfill St. Catherine's prophecy and destroy her family.
When Joan tells the family of her plans, she is ridiculed by her brother Pierre (Brennan Pickman-Thoon) and whipped by her father Jacques (Scott Coopwood). Women don't fight or lead armies, they're the whores that follow the soldiers around. Both male characters reflect the prevailing male-centric philosophy - they work hard, provide for their families and fight. Or, like Father Gilbert (Robert Sicular), run the church.
When Father Gilbert and prominent ecclesiasts support Joan's story, she is sent to the court of the Dauphin, the future Charles VII and given an army. Mother and father can't really understand the ramifications of Joan's visions and believe she will only be a standard bearer. Deeply concerned with their Joan's safety, they charge Pierre with protecting his sister. Life at court pleases Pierre; nice clothes, good food and freedom from the drudgery of building walls and herding sheep on the farm.
Joan is venerated at court, mythologized by sycophants like Nicole (Liz Sklar), a lady of the Court who's never seen anything like the warrior zealot Joan. Flush with victories, Joan become a heroine leading the French to a victory over the English at Orléans. When her parents visit, their daughter has transformed. Her mother kneels before her and even her father is swayed. Joan is captured by the English and their French allies and put up for trial as a heretic.
A mother's anguish kicks in and Fracher's performance becomes tortured and sad, all innocence drained. Father Gilbert tells her the only defense is for Joan to disavow her visions causing a crisis in faith. Torn in here support of Joan's faith, she must deny her own and beg Joan to concede and save herself. Of course, Joan cannot and is convicted and burned at the stake at age 19. The remaining family members deliver their final thoughts to the audience; Jacques feels compelled to witness his daughter's gory death, raising his hand high so she sees him and knows she's not alone, while the weaker Pierre drinks his misery away. Isabelle disavows her faith and sees the beauty of the flowers and nature as her new faith.
Anderson is an Emmy award-winning writer and director of theatre, television and screen. She's written an authentic dramatization of historical events that seems timeless in its themes. The language is modern vernacular and natural. In addition to Fracher's stunning performance, Director Jasson Minadakis creates the environment of both simple farm people and the grand elegance of the royal court with beautiful sets by Sean Fanning and costumes by Sarah Smith. Chris Lundahl lights the sets with what I imagine to be medieval auras.
Mother of the Maid challenges norms by tacking issues of women's rights, deep religious faith and the relationship of mother to daughter. With today's fractured families and religious dogmatism, Anderson, Minadakis and the star-studded cast provide a welcome chance for self-examination.
Mother of the Maid continues through December 15, 2019 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley. Tickets available at www.marintheatre.org or calling 415-388-5208.
Photos by Kevin Berne