What’s a mother to do when her daughter says she hears the voice of an angel instructing her to lead an army to war? ‘Love her unconditionally’ is the short answer provided by playwright Jane Anderson in Mother of the Maid, running at Marin Theatre Company through Dec. 15.
Poets, authors, playwrights and filmmakers have told the tale of Joan of Arc for close to six centuries now, and one wouldn’t think there’s much more to say on the subject. Playwright Anderson moves the focus of the story to Joan’s family and turns what is often treated as a religious or historical treatise into part situation comedy/part medieval family drama.
Joan (Rosie Hallett) confesses to her mother Isabelle (Sherman Fracher) that the voice of Saint Catherine has informed her that Joan’s destiny is to lead a great French army and cast the English from her country. When Joan’s father Jacques (Scott Coopwood) finds out, he tries to beat the effrontery out of her. Thinking that a trip to the local vicar will rid Joan of the idea, the family is surprised when Father Gilbert (Robert Sicular) finds Joan’s claim credible. Under the escort of her brother Pierre (Brennan Pickman-Thoon), Joan is soon off to the palace of the Dauphin to meet her destiny.
Much of that ‘destiny’ occurs off-stage as the focus remains on the impact of Joan’s decisions on those around her. Her brother first attaches himself to Joan as a protector but soon sees the circumstances as a way out of the peasant life. Her father trusts no one and senses things will not end well, and her mother does what mothers do—she stands by her child through thick and thin and tries to keep the family together.
Anderson tackles a lot of themes here: faith, class, power, sexism and familial relationships. She expresses these themes’ universality through the use of anachronistic dialogue which, while occasionally jarring, does make the material more accessible.
Director Jasson Minadakis and a quality cast do a fine job in bringing balance to Anderson’s sometimes odd mixture of comedy and drama. The scenic design by Sean Fanning and lighting design by Chris Lundhal is superb with breathtaking visuals. Sara Huddleston’s sound design in conjunction with Penina Biddle-Gottesman’s delivery of Chris Houston’s compositions aurally transport us between the worldly and other-worldly.
Yes, you know how the story ends, but remember—it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.