“…It’d be a sin to keep her down just because we acted like a couple of stupid peasants.” Isabelle d’Arc
Jane Anderson’s Mother of the Maid, starring a mesmerizing Glenn Close, seeks to tell the story of the Mother of the Maid and ends up showing us the bond between mother and child. Despite being middle class for the time, Isabelle had no education and no breading, yet she managed to restore her daughter’s name by petitioning Pope Nicholas V to reopen the court case that convicted Joan of heresy. An inquiry opened in 1449 and on November 7, 1455, Isabelle traveled to Paris to visit the delegation from the Holy See. Although she was over seventy years old, she addressed the assembly with a moving speech. Isabelle attended most of the appellate trial sessions despite poor health. The appeals court overturned the conviction on July 7, 1456. Most of the play is taken from those transcripts, though it is not all factual, uses modern speech at times, and seems more 21st century despite the wonderful set by John Lee Beatty and the spot-on period costumes by Jane Greenwood.
The play begins by monologue, as Isabelle talks in the third person as she cleans burrs out of sheep’s wool. When Joan (Grace Van Patten) joins her, Isabelle reminds her to stop hunching and work in the light. This mother is concerned for her daughter, though the daughter is a rebellious teen. Isabelle knows something is not quite right with her daughter, but she confuses this behavior for the love of a boy. When Joan confesses she’s been having holy visions, her mother, a God-fearing woman, thinks she wants to be a nun, stating “Abbesses get to tell people what to do; you’d like that”. When Joan tells her she is to dress like a man and lead the French army against the English occupiers, Isabelle is none too keen on the subject. For that matter, neither is her father, Jacques (a perfectly cast Dermot Crowley) or her brother, Pierre (Andrew Hovelson). Even when the local priest, Father Gilbert (Daniel Pearce), tells the family that her visions are real, they are not completely convinced.
Joan, however, is determined, and the family has no option but to give in. Pierre joins her in the fight, as her mother makes the 300-mile trek to court. She misses her beloved daughter. At court, Isabelle is a fish out of water, but she is befriended by Lady of the Court (Kelly Curran), who though they are from different stations, is aware of her privileged position.
As Joan is arrested and chained, we see her pain and we see the fierce loyalty and grief her family feels at seeing their daughter betrayed, abandoned by King, God, country, and church. Jacques and Isabelle blame each other for the state of affairs but end up in each other’s arms. This is a family who is bonded, despite the opposition. Our hearts bleed when Isabelle baths her daughter, bloody and hurt, to be burned by fire.
The cast is terrific, with Glenn Close giving a riveting layered performance. She holds us rapt when she is onstage. This is the mother who will lay herself bare for her child. Crowley, along with Close, brings an amusing human look at family life, as well as a grounded look at a father who cannot understand the circumstances. Hovelson as Pierre brings comedic relief. Though the scenes with Close bring out the best in Ms. Van Patten, we never really feel for her, except in the eyes of her mother.
Matthew Penn’s direction sometimes drags but Anderson’s play is funny, well written, and moving.
This is a play for all mothers and daughters and for the men who love them.
“I had a daughter, born in legitimate marriage, whom I fortified worthily with the sacraments of baptism and confirmation and raised in the fear of God and respect for the tradition of the Church,” and ended, “…without any aid given to her innocence in a perfidious, violent, and iniquitous trial, without a shadow of right… they condemned her in a damnable and criminal fashion and made her die most cruelly by fire.” Isabelle d’Arc.
Mother of the Maid: Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street through December 23rd.