By Tulis McCall
As the title suggests, Mother of the Maid at the Public Theater, is a story of Isabelle Arc who is the mother of – well YOU know. St. Joan. This story is both narrated and experienced by Isabelle (Glenn Close). She appeals to the adult in all of us: how to make a living, feed yourself and your family, keep yourself connected to spirit, and protect those who are younger than you from making mistakes that might ruin them. Nothing new in that.
Her daughter Joan (Grace Van Patten) is going through a swaggering stage as she wrestles with the visions that engulf her. Saint Catherine visits and consumes Joan with the very source of life. This news is greeted matter-of-factly by Isabelle – visions would be a form of entertainment if nothing else – until it shifts to the reality that Catherine has told Joan to lead an army in support of the Dauphin.
The news does not go over well – until it does. The local priest (Daniel Pearce) signs off on Joan’s quest due to a message from the Bishop. Isabelle and her husband Jacques (Dermot Crowley) are compelled to let Joan go to court with her brother Pierre (Andrew Hovelson) as a chaperone.
Off Joan goes in her new breeches, and her parents are left to carry on. Jacques doesn’t trust anything about the situation. He is certain that his daughter is being used. Isabelle has a larger picture. It’s a horrible, horrible world, Jacques. Why would you want to crush this one bit of wonder that’s come our way? Our girl’s been chosen and we both should be fierce proud.
After this there is a lot of exposition, and the play is reduced to a simmer. It is so slow that what should have been the end of the First Act is followed by a long, uneventful scene of Isabelle seeing the court for the first time. She is snookered by a glass cup and mead.
The Second Act chugs along at about the same rate. Even the prison scenes are uneventful. One problem is that we all know what happened – at least the basic facts. So if you are going to hook me in, you had better give me something I don’t know but want to. There is little of that here. Not only is the plot wanting, the writing is stiff and uneven. One minute it sounds vaguely 15th century and the next minute we are hearing phrases like, “check this out,” and, “I’ve got it covered.”
In addition, the characters are not clearly defined. Close swings like a pendulum from being a simple peasant to being a fierce defender of her daughter; from being overwhelmed by the palace to being insulted at the condescension that flows like wine; from being mild to being merciless. She has no clear path in this play, and because she is the fulcrum, the play is out of balance. The result is that this is an altogether pedestrian production that cannot decide what it is or why.
As the play closes, Isabelle tells us of her own fate. After Jacques death, she traveled the country, learned to read and write and got herself to Rome. There, she petitioned the Pope to reopen the case against Joan. She testified before the muckety-muck clergy in a tribunal. She was 70 – and in the 1400’s that was NOT the new 50. It was more like being 100. Because of Isabelle, Joan’s conviction of heresy was reversed, and she was declared a saint.
Isabelle D’Arc did that. It was the final gift from the Mother of the Maid to her daughter.
Isabelle’s visit to Rome? That is the play I want to see.
Mother of the Maid by Jane Anderson, Directed by Matthew Penn
WITH: Glenn Close (Isabelle Arc), Dermot Crowley (Jacques Arc), Olivia Gilliatt (Monique), Kate Jennings Grant (Lady of the Court), Andrew Hovelson (Pierre Arc), Daniel Pearce (Father Gilbert), and Grace Van Patten (Joan Arc)
Sets, John Lee Beatty; costumes, Jane Greenwood; lighting, Lap Chi Chu; sound design, Alexander Sovronsky and Joanna Lynne Staub; original music, Alexander Sovronsky; hair and wig design, Tom Watson;
A Public Theater presentation – Anspacher Theater, Public TheaterEXTENDED to December 23 Best Availability: December 4 to December 23 Full price tickets start at $95, plus fees* | Member tickets start at $75 Partial view tickets are $55, plus fees* Online at publictheater.org Call at 212.967.7555In-person at our Taub Box Office at 425 Lafayette St