Joan of Arc play plays with motherhood and emotions
When I was a kid and my mom didn’t think I’d understand what she was saying or doing, she’d proclaim virtuously, “You’ll never be a mother.”
She was right, of course, and I wasn’t sharp enough to retort, “Yeah, but I’ll be a father and experience plenty of the same emotions.”
Playwright Jane Anderson covers both parent-child relationships in the Marin Theatre Company’s “Mother of the Maid,” emphasizing the maternal, minimizing the paternal, and running a gamut of feelings.
While letting me examine fear and faith.
Act I of the 15th century Joan of Arc story told from her mom’s viewpoint leans heavily on humor, simulating a cross between Shakespeare and Carol Burnett.
The second act, which relies on melodrama, poignantly probes how a distraught parent can bond with a rebellious, angry, beleaguered offspring no matter what — even one who from age 13 claims she can talk with God and a dead Saint Catherine.
Mom, probably like most in that category, futilely does her upmost to rescue her daughter from herself as well as her enemies.
Jasson Minadakis, in his 14th year as the company’s artistic director, adroitly directs the six-member all-Equity cast headed by Sherman Fracher as Isabelle, the grounded, hard-working, illiterate, slightly nonplussed and frustrated mother of the stubborn but needy “Maid of Orleans” (Rosie Hallett) who’ll eventually don men’s garb and armor and lead a French army against the English.
The two-hour play’s sets by Sean Fanning are gloriously beautiful, and the costumes designed by Sarah Smith are highly effective.
Especially striking are moments when Joan d’Arc’s mother first encounters her transformed child in a cathedral-like setting and, later, when she reunites with her soon-to-be martyred daughter dangling in tatters from a rope coming from the rafters.
It becomes clear to a mostly appreciating, packed opening-night audience early on that Isabelle most often views Joan not as saint, heroine or political lightning rod but as a child who needs cradling while struggling with her visions — and even, oddly, when she has the runs while waiting to be burned at the stake.
The playwright has admitted she was obsessed with Joan when Anderson was a young gay girl toying with the idea of coming out to her mother. And years later when she became a mom herself, she recognized the difficulty of parenting a child who acted as she had.
Voila, the play.
Which ran off-Broadway in 2018 with Isabelle portrayed by Glenn Close, who subsequently starred in Anderson’s screenplay, “The Wife.”
Yes, she’s a talented writer, but I was mildly irked by her major characters breaking the fourth wall and heavy-handedly talking to the audience about themselves in the third person.
In modern lingo no less.
I also wasn’t sure why Anderson felt the need to pepper her dialogue with f-bombs (except, maybe, to contrast with the overriding theme of holiness).
I was pleased, on the other hand, to see character changes as the play evolves, especially the burgeoning loud rage of Scott Coopwood as Jacques, Joan’s dad, as she faces death.
Afterward, some theatergoers voiced that the family drama was satisfyingly intense.
Others, including me, labeled weak the coda in which Joan’s trial conviction of heresy is reversed, and were bothered by substantial dispassion despite the display of so many emotions.
Reactions undoubtedly depend on what baggage individuals bring into the theater.
And, maybe, what gender.
“Mother of the Maid” plays at the Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley, through Dec. 15. Night performances, 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; matinees, 1 p.m. Thursdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets: $25 to $70. Information: 415-388-5208 or marintheatre.org.