Review: Jarrott Productions’ Mother of the Maid
Joan of Arc's life takes path less traveled but the production gets lost
By Bob Abelman,
12:35PM, Wed. Apr. 26, 2023
There’s a sizable body of plays told from the perspective of a secondary character tethered to a remarkable other.
Think Amadeus (lesser composer Antonio Salieri tells the story of Mozart), Jesus Christ Superstar (lesser apostle Judas Iscariot tells the story of his messiah), and Hamilton (lesser politician Aaron Burr tells the story of the only Hispanic Founding Father). This serves to both humanize and illuminate that remarkable other, but often to the detriment of the secondary character (Salieri goes insane, Judas hangs himself, Burr is never in the room where it happens).
Jane Anderson has taken a similar path in her work but has gone in a different direction. Her plays and screenplays (The Wife, Olive Kitteridge, Looking for Normal) illuminate the lives of the secondary characters, who tend to be ordinary women, to the detriment of the remarkable others. In her most recent play Mother of the Maid, Anderson sets her sights on the year 1429 and the mother of Joan d’Arc. Here, it’s the illiterate, god-fearing peasant woman from rural northeastern France who is elevated in our eyes and her remarkable, difficult to understand teenage daughter who is diminished.
It’s an intriguing premise. Sadly, Jarrott Productions’ staging has some difficulty getting it across.
To underscore Joan’s humble roots and, perhaps, make the saint-breeding Arc family seem relatable, the script recommends that the mother Isabelle (Katherine Schroeder), brusque father Jacques (Daniel Norton), Joan (Alyssa Hurtado), and brother Pierre (Christopher Gonzalez) speak simply. The dialogue also implies a backwoodiness (“I seen him looking at you”).
But the good folks at Jarrott Productions have taken this recommendation to the extreme by having the characters speak as if from Appalachia, where everyone but the gentry (Rosalind Faires), clergy, and scribe (Beau Paul) allows their “r’s” to drop at the end of words (“Mutha”), their “g’s” to disappear at the end of participles (“prayin’”), and possess a drawl that borders on caricature. While this dialect tends to accentuate the occasional humor found in this play, albeit unintentionally, it also makes it harder to sit through the more dramatic moments without grinning.
Dialogue also far outweighs stage direction in this script and director David Jarrott very much sticks to the script. There’s little happening on stage to justify fight director Tobie Minor’s credit in the playbill and there’s more action taking place during scene changes than in scenes. The design elements built for this production, while nicely capturing the Arc’s humble, rustic existence, offer little to look at. Jarrott sets the stage with only three faux-rock arches for a doorway and windows against a black background, while different tables, chairs, and assorted props serve to establish the Arc home, the dining room and chapel at Court, and Joan’s prison cell. All this works just fine, as does Buffy Manners’ Ren Faire costuming, Craig Brock’s ambient sound design, and Amy Lewis’ lighting. That Joan never glows is true to Anderson’s approach to the girl. But there’s little to hold our attention.
What should hold our attention in a play like this is the acting. There are no poor performances, but in the off-Broadway production of Mother of the Maid, actor Glenn Close (the role was written with her in mind) digs deep in her portrayal of the mother as a vessel of many emotions. She’s a devoted woman who doles out tough love followed by long hugs to her awkward, short-tempered daughter (well played here by Hurtado). Schroeder has opted for the nagging, insensitive mother archetype who is partial to high-volume histrionics, which is so less interesting and engaging over the course of the show.
Perhaps that’s the biggest problem with this production. Little is done to make a case for why this is Isabelle’s story to tell.
Jarrott Productions’ Mother of the Maid979 Springdale
Through May 6
Running time: 2 hrs.