Maternal love persists in ‘Mother of the Maid’

The story of Joan of Arc, who was called the Maid of Orleans, is fairly well known, but what about her family?

That’s the question playwright Jane Anderson addresses in “Mother of the Maid,” presented by Marin Theatre Company.

Set in France in 1429, the story begins in the family home in the village of Domrémy. Isabelle Arc (Sherman Fracher) talks about herself in the third person, describing a woman who can’t read or write and whose clothes are modest, to say the least.

She’s the mother of 14-year-old Joan (Rosie Hallett), who says she hears and sees  St. Catherine. Naturally Isabelle is skeptical, but Joan insists she’s telling the truth. She says St. Catherine is telling her to command the French army to oust the occupying English.

Joan’s father, the even more skeptical and unyielding Jacques (Scott Coopwood), beats her to get her to disavow her visions, but he doesn’t succeed.

However, she’s believed by her brother, Pierre (Brennan Pickman-Thoon), and the village priest, Father Gilbert (Robert Sicular).

His vouching for her sends her to the court of the Dauphin, where she’s outfitted in armor and successfully leads the French army against the English, who have laid siege to the city of Orléans.

Later, the English capture her, try her, find her guilty of heresy and sentence her to death by burning at the stake.

Much of this history is related through Isabelle, who follows Joan to the court and then to prison in Rouen, where Joan is kept in deplorable conditions.

Near the end of Act 1, Isabelle has walked 300 miles to see Joan at the court. Before she’s allowed to see her, though, she’s greeted by the elegant Lady of the Court (Liz Sklar).

Although she does her best to try to make Isabelle welcome and to capitalize on their shared bond of motherhood, she winds up offending her guest because the class differences between them are too great. It’s a fascinating scene.

Another memorable scene occurs near the end of Act 2 when the gruff, rough Jacques movingly describes the spectacle of Joan’s death.

Sensitively directed by MTC artistic director Jasson Minadakis, Fracher’s performance as Isabelle is gripping as her character experiences a range of sometimes wrenching emotions but never deviates from love for Joan.

Coopwood, Pickman-Thoon, Sklar and Sicular also are outstanding. Hallett as Joan is less successful, especially during much of the first act when Joan seems like a hysterical teenager. She’s better in the second act as she faces her fate.

Speaking on opening night, Minadakis said that a five-day power outage in October meant that the cast had to rehearse in the lobby during daylight hours because the rest of the theater was too dark.

Likewise, the artistic staff had to overcome obstacles in building the set and making other preparations.

These difficulties weren’t apparent in the finished product. Besides the polished acting, design elements complemented the production.

Credit goes to Sean Fanning for the set; Chris Lundahl, lighting; Sarah Smith, costumes; Sara Huddleston, sound, and their crews along with composer Chris Houston and vocalist-cellist Penina Biddle-Gottesman.

Running about two hours with one intermission, “Mother of the Maid” has been extended through Dec. 15 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave. Mill Valley.

For tickets and information, call (415) 388-5208 or visit www.marintheatre.org.

 

About the Author

Judy RichterJudy reviews San Francisco Bay Area theater and writes feature articles about activities of the Stanford women's basketball team and Fast Break Club. A longtime Bay Area journalist, she is retired from the San Francisco Chronicle, where she was a writer and copy editor.View all posts by Judy Richter →