Theater Review: MOTHER OF THE MAID (Moxie Theatre)

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by Milo Shapiro on May 1, 2022

in Theater-San Diego

YOU THINK YOUR DAUGHTER WAS A HANDFUL?

Joan of Arc is remembered as a hero and a martyr for her active role in France’s defense from British invasion in the 15th century. How much the average theatergoer knows of her will vary, but likely, across the board, few of us have ever given thought to what her family went through — from her teenage visions of St. Catherine to her infamous burning at the stake for trumped up charges of heresy. The notion for such a family-perspective story led playwright Jane Anderson to research and then write Mother of the Maid, a fascinating and intimate look at Joan (Mikaela Rae Macias) and her effect on those around her, especially her mother, Isabelle (Jennifer Eve Thorn).

DesireĆ© Clark‘s direction is beautifully paced as we follow Isabelle’s arc (pun intended) as she comes to terms with what is happening. Remember that only Joan is seeing these visions so, to everyone around her, she is fanciful at best, losing her mind at worst. From her Dad (Dave Rivas) to her brother (Zack King) to her local priest (Mark C. Petrich) to the unseen King Charles, everyone has a different take on Joan’s confidence that the visions are real and that she is destined to lead French armies against English forces.

Though the cast is strong throughout, it is mostly Isabelle’s story. Ms. Thorn is magnificent in her turmoil, as she is launched from a modest homemaker for a shepherding family to the never-sought role of mother of an icon who never fully lives up to everyone’s expectations, yet whose life is in jeopardy. In much of the play, Ms. Macias strikes a bit too one-note as Joan for us to fully appreciate her skills (though, perhaps understandably so, given the script) but when she lets loose in her final scene, the contrast makes for a powerful and gripping performance.

Also notable is Sarah Alida LeClair as Nicole, a lady of the court from whom Isabelle seeks aid. With her Rita Rudner-like delivery, she transforms many a line that Anderson probably didn’t intend to be funny into laugh aloud moments, all without undermining the integrity of the scene. Ironically, that same quality of tone causes her final scene, in contrast, to be all the more tender when Joan’s circumstances change.

Ms. Thorn serves in two roles: as Isabelle herself and as narrator of the show (explaining scenes for us that would be difficult and time-consuming to portray). It helps knowing this going in, for it is potentially confusing at first when, not knowing this, her narration refers to Isabelle in the third person.

Yi-Chien Lee is to be commended for the beauty, simplicity, and versatility of her scenic design, with pieces that serve well for multiple locations.

Overall, Mother of the Maid is a moving piece that should fill seats for Moxie with well-earned word of mouth.

photos by DesireƩ Clarke

Mother of the Maid
Moxie Theatre 6663 El Cajon Blvd. Suite N, in San Diego
Thurs at 7:30; Fri & Sat at 8; Sun at 2
ends on May 22, 2022
for tickets, call 858-598-7620 or visit Moxie

{ 2 comments }

CGesange May 12, 2022 at 10:56 am

Some historical comments. The playwright herself admitted that the play isn’t historical, except the vague outline of events. In reality, Joan of Arc said (at her trial) that she didn’t fight in combat (she carried her banner) and didn’t call herself a commander (confirmed on both counts by eyewitnesses and the Royal military records). Her so-called “male clothing” was just the soldier’s horseback riding outfit given to her by the troops who escorted her to Chinon (she wore a dress up to that point), in fact one of the soldiers in her escort (Jehan de Metz) said that he was the one who brought up the idea, and gave her clothing from one of his servants. She was said to have gone back to a dress whenever she could; but wore the riding outfit in prison because (according to several eyewitnesses) she could use its dozens of thick laces to securely fasten the long hip-boots, trousers and tunic all together to make it difficult for her guards to pull her clothing off when they tried to molest her. The play’s language is also inaccurate (complete with obscenities from people who didn’t actually use such language in the case of Joan herself and her devout family). Numerous eyewitnesses also said that Joan was normally quiet (only speaking when she had something important to say) and normally obedient to her parents rather than perpetually rebellious. Her interaction with St. Catherine in the play bears no resemblance to what she actually described. Father Gilbert is fictional (her parish priest at Domremy was named Jehan Minet). The idea that Joan was abandoned by Charles VII and the clergy after being captured is false: clergy such as the Archbishop of Embrun (Jacques Gelu) wrote repeatedly to Charles urging him to rescue her by any means necessary, and eyewitnesses said that Charles VII attempted (unsuccessfully) to force the Burgundians to allow him to pay a ransom, and there seem to have been at least four rescue attempts conducted by his forces during the spring of 1431. Joan’s mother Isabelle blamed the English rather than being angry at God, as can be seen in her speech given at the beginning of the postwar appellate trial (which the play alludes to by providing a very brief quote from that speech – “I had a daughter once…” – while leaving out the rest of that sentence which clarifies her opinions on the trial and execution of her daughter). The play casts Joan’s brother Pierre as a drunken good-for-nothing, although in reality he was captured while trying to protect his sister at Compiegne, and spent eight years as a prisoner of war. In any event, the playwright said that she basically inserted herself into the characters, so it’s more about the playwright than Joan of Arc and her mother.

Tony Frankel May 12, 2022 at 12:39 pm

What a terrific description! And no doubt why very few writers have attempted the “true” story of Joan. Ironically, one of my favorite musical comedies (in cast recordings, anyway) is Goodtime Charley (1975), starring Ann Reinking and Joel Grey, which is centered around the Dauphin of France (later, King Charles VII), and his relationship with Joan. It’s claimed to be a “humorous take on actual historical events.”

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