Thursday, December 5, 2019

St. Joan through a Modern Lens

Mother of the Maid

Rosie Hallett, Sherman Fracher, and Scott Coopwood  Photo: Kevin Berne

By Jane Anderson
Directed by Jasson Minadakis
Marin Theatre Company, Mill Valley


Until December 15, 2019

Reviewed by Christine Okon

If Joan of Arc were alive today, she might be a media “influencer” with a huge following. Although set in 14th Century France, Jane Anderson’s “Mother of the Maid” has a modern feel that allows us to relate to the whole Joan: Joan the stubborn and outspoken teen, passionate leader, inspired saint, and ordinary girl who calls for her mother in times of suffering.

Mother of the Maid” widens the scope to include how Joan’s rise and demise affects her family, especially her mother Isabelle Arc (Sherman Fracher), a simple peasant woman occupied with the day-to-day tasks of  maintaining a home while trying to handle a daughter she doesn’t quite understand. Fracher takes her character from everyday exasperation to awed reverence and finally to heartbreaking grief when she tries to save her daughter. Isabelle walks 300 miles to visit her famous daughter in the palace, and Fracher deftly moves between the pride and awkwardness of a peasant who has never imagined such kind treatment of the exquisite court lady, played with regal stature and warm curiosity by an elegant Liz Sklar.

Sherman Fracher  Photo: Kevin Berne

Rosie Hallett gives us a strong, passionate, and stubborn Joan who is driven by her connection to St. Catherine, St. Margaret, and the warrior Archangel Michael to carry out a holy mission to restore the Dauphin to his rightful place as king of France. Hallett shines as the young peasant girl who doesn’t hold back with expletives and becomes the magnificent spiritual warrior who transcends her mortal surroundings. The powers that be seize upon the opportunity to use Joan as a symbol of what is good and noble about France. In a sense, she is put forth to improve the “brand” of the Dauphin and to rally the populace in support.  Why, even her style of mannish dress becomes fashionable for other young girls of the kingdom. Joan is given the royal treatment, literally, securing a spot in the luxurious castle while public acclaim swells. She is joined by her brother Pierre, played with a cocksure demeanor by Brennan Pickman-Thoon, who enjoys the palace benefits as his sister ascends in grace and notoriety, until the rules of the game are changed to demonize her for the very thing she was revered for. She becomes a pawn in  the nefarious machinations of the political religious dynamic of the times, only to be discarded and destroyed.

Rosie Hallett  Photo: Kevin Berne

The chasm of class difference is clear, and Fracher exudes the spirit of a proud but simple woman trying to navigate deep, dark, political, and religious-- waters. Despite the whirlwind of her daughter's life and being awed by Joan’s ascendant transformation, Isabelle’s love for Joan is the true constant. As Joan’s father Jacques Arc, Scott Coopwood gives a fine performance of a man who at first seems preoccupied with everyday concerns until he becomes he steadfastly witnesses his daughter’s cruel execution. Johnson’s device of characters narrating their own stories before moving into action is very effective, creating a story within a story.

Every character experiences profound and complex transformations that are expertly directed by Jasson Minadakis.

Rosie Hallett and Sherman Fracher  Photo: Kevin Berne

Special attention must be paid to Sean Fanning’s versatile and resplendent set design that suggests a peasant’s home as well as a castle. Sarah Smith’s expert costume design is wonderfully detailed and crafted, from the whipstitching on the hems of ragged peasant garb to the sparkling embroidery of the court. You could almost smell the dung balls on the sheep and the perfume of the palace.

"Mother of the Maid" is a powerful production with a superb cast that expands the familiar story of the Maid of Orleans to reveal how families share in the volatile and unpredictable forces of fame.


"Mother of the Maid" by Jane Anderson, directed by Jasson Minadakis, Marin Theatre Company, Mill Valley, through December 15, 2019. Info: marintheatre.org


CAST
*Sherman Fracher: ISABELLE ARC
*Rosie Hallett: JOAN ARC
*Scott Coopwood: JACQUES ARC
*Brennan Pickman-Thoon: PIERRE ARC
*Robert Sicular: FATHER GILBERT
*Liz Sklar: LADY OF THE COURT

* Denotes member of Actors’ Equity Association


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