Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Although Joan is the prime focus of most (if not all) creative works about her life, here the main point of view is that of her mother, Isabelle. As lights come up, Isabelle is sitting in the Arcs' modest home, pulling burrs from wool in preparation for spinning, and telling us the basics of her life. Isabelle lets us know she's not naïve; she understands the fragility of life, having "barely shed a tear" when she lost a child in infancy, and that she "tries to be grateful." She's so prototypically maternal that it would be almost impossible for anyone who ever had a mother not to recognizeand smile ather instincts and her protective nature.
When Joan comes in from a day tending sheep, and her mother confronts her with an accusation leveled by a neighbor, Joan confesses that the strange behavior the neighbor witnessed is due to visions she has been experiencing. Specifically, visions of St. Catherine. "Oh, she's a lovely saint," her mother gushesuntil she learns St. Catherine has been telling Joan her destiny is to lead France's armies into battle against the English, who have been crushing the French for decades.
Who can blame a mother for not totally getting behind such a plan? Yet, because the Arc family lives in a world where saints are (mostly) accepted as completely real beings, and the pronouncements of clergy like local priest Father Gilbert (Robert Sicular) are taken as infallible dictates from God himself, off goes Joan to a noble's castle, accompanied by her brother Pierre (Brennan Pickman-Thoon), where both will add their numbers to France's army.
In the courtbeautifully realized by scenic designer Sean Fanning as a framework of gothic arches suspended above a large sliding platformJoan becomes a bit of a superstar, especially after she leads troops to victory in her first battle. When mother Isabelle and father Jacques (Scott Coopwood) come to visit, they are treated royallydrinking mead from real glass mugs and sleeping in rooms with carpets and tapestriesand the play diverges into a bit of commentary on celebrity culture.
Despite its being set around 1430, the language Anderson uses feels almost contemporary, which, rather than pulling us out of the time period, actually reinforces the universal nature of its message of the power of parental love. One could imagine a rewrite set in 2001 with a daughter feeling compelled to enlist in the armed services to fight Al Qaeda. The emotions, the anxiety, the commitmentit would all fit perfectly into Anderson's dramatic structure.
In addition to the lovely set, Mother of the Maid benefits from a stellar cast assembled by director Jasson Minadakis. Fracher will touch your heart the way only a mother can and, with her final goodbye to her daughter, break it entirely. As Joan's father, Scott Coopwood is appropriately gruffuntil he delivers a touching monologue at the play's end that will take the pieces of your heart Fracher has broken and try to sew them back together for you.
Rosie Hallett imbues her Joan with a fierce passion and a charisma that had me ready to armor up and join her quest. Robert Sicular, long one of the Bay Area's finest stage actors, uses his gorgeously resonant voice like Yo-Yo Ma uses his cello: sure, it's just vibrations moving through air, but through his mastery it becomes so much more than that. Brennan Pickman-Thoon further cements his position as a rising Bay Area stage star by treating us to a youthful exuberance that also, somehow, brings a level of gravitas to the role.
For a parent, Mother of the Maid is not an easy play to watch, as we can all too easily empathize with the terror Isabelle Arc feels as her daughter is sent to the stake (even as she comforts and reassures her), but Marin Theater Company presents this fascinating play with elegance and powerdriving home its message with the requisite grace and tenderness to burrow its way deep into our hearts.
Mother of the Maid runs through December 15, 2019, at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley CA. Performances are Tuesdays-Sundays at 7:30 p.m., with matinees Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. There is an additional "Perspectives" matinee on October 17 at 1:00 p.m. Tickets range from $25-$70. For tickets and information, visit marintheatre.org or call the box office at 415-388-5208.