Arts & Entertainment

Review: Marin Theatre Company presents a riveting ‘Mother of the Maid’

By November 25, 2019 No Comments
Joan (Rosie Hallett) dictates a letter while her parents, Isabelle (Sherman Fracher) and Jacques Arc (Scott Coopwood), observe in a scene from "Mother of the Maid" at Marin Theatre Company. (Photos courtesy of Kevin Berne)

“Mother of the Maid,’’ currently running at Marin Theatre Company, is the story of Joan of Arc told by her mother.

Isabelle Arc finds it difficult enough to cope with Joan as a teenager. When Joan is called by St. Catherine to take herself off to the battlefield and join the French forces to defeat the English, there are more complications than she ever imagined.

Jane Anderson’s 2015 play, which opened at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts, subsequently had a New York Public Theater staging with Glenn Close in the title role (Anderson wrote the screenplay for “The Wife,” in which Close starred).

Joan (Rosie Hallett) in prayer in “The Mother of the Maid.”

The play is based on an interesting and unique idea: to explore the heroine’s family and farm life in the French village of Domrémy and tell Joan’s story through her eyes.

It is a difficult call for the title character. Isabelle must almost singlehandedly narrate the play, weigh in on each character  and at the end deal with the discovery of her daughter in chains before going to the stake: layered intensities that would exhaust almost any actress cast in the role.

Sherman Fracher as Isabelle tackles the role in earnest, pressing for peace in her family before Joan leaves, dealing with the Dauphin’s court after walking three hundred miles to find Joan there, comforting her in prison before her burning at the stake. Unrelenting anguish is the tone of the last act, and Fracher delivers.

Anderson’s choice of dialect, an unidentified twang (I thought Appalachia, my seat mate thought Brooklyn), is difficult to get right. For example, Joan says to Isabelle early in the play:  “I’m havin’ holy visions, Ma!’’ This is the language Isabelle uses in the Dauphin’s court after walking 300 miles to find Joan, and it’s jarring to say the least.

In one scene, Isabelle speaks to a high-born Lady of the Court (Liz Sklar), who listens to what Isabelle has to say and exclaims: “Oh, fabulous! I adore you!’’ If this sounds patronizing, it probably is.

Rosie Hallett is a gangly Joan, authoritative and strong-minded, and overtaken with love when spoken to by St. Catherine.  She is ever the back-talking teen too, and when Isabelle claims to have been paid a visit by the saint, Hallett reproaches her as any willful teenager would, and suggesting she was only looking at the sun.

Strong performances are given by Brennan Pickman-Thoon as Joan’s brother Pierre, Robert Sicular as Father Gilbert, and Scott Coopwood as Jacques, the father — his stern, quiet profile balances Fracher’s desperation.

Sean Fanning’s settings of the framed wood farmhouse and later a marble chapel in the Dauphin’s castle serve the play well, and artistic director Jasson Minadakis stages the play with telling simplicity that details each character,

“Mother of the Maid,’’ an interesting take on one of history’s greatest heroines, runs at Martin Theatre Company through Dec. 15.