Friday, November 22, 2019

"Mother of the Maid" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

The rare combination of a show that makes us feel alive with understanding, as well as forcing us to think about our place in the world order, has arrived in Mill Valley. Marin Theater Company's production of Jane Anderson's "Mother of the Maid" puts us in a position we have never before considered: what if you are Joan of Arc's mother? Your country is at war with England and your neighbors have been slaughtered. Your daughter has been seeing visions of St. Catherine, who has instructed her to raise an army to drive the invaders away, with God's help, of course.

You know, in your heart, your daughter is insane (and probably not too crazy about boys, as the show hints), but the Mom in you wants to believe the holy story is true. You also know that you are a peasant and that palling up with royalty will end up with you getting the short end of the stick. But you cannot stop Joan from her fate. What's a Mom to do?

In the first place, Joan of Arc's real last name was Arc. (D'Arc, actually.) Who knew?

Played by Rosie Hallett, Joan gives us a fairly typical teenage daughter, except for the swords and armor. She doesn't want to hear any difference of opinion from her parents, and anyway she has convinced the local Priest and Duke to sponsor her. Her father tries to discipline her, but, you know, St. Catherine and God and the Priest are a tough trio to argue with.

Sherman Fracher gives one of the best performances we have seen all year as Isabelle Arc, mother of The Maid, as Joan has come to be known. Fracher should be nominated for Actor of the Year for this role, that gives us a salt-of-the-earth peasant trying to please the royals (especially Liz Sklar as a sympathetic but clueless Lady of the Court).  She is both practical (she can clean her own feet, thank you) and furious, when she realizes the Crown has used Joan to restore its power but has no intention of ransoming her from the English, now that her work is done.

Scott Coopwood is all us fathers, angry but helpless, stung to the heart but unable to make his child understand her inevitable fall. His soliloquy, as he watches his daughter being burnt at the stake, will break your heart and pour hot oil over it.

Robert Sicular is an effective Father Gilbert and Brennan Pickman-Thoon an equally effective Pierre Arc, Joan's would-be-soldier brother. Kudos to the entire cast for making me keep the window open all the way home, that my sorrow at the human condition should not wash me off the Golden Gate Bridge.

RATINGS: ☼  ☼  ☼  ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants FOUR STARS to "Mother of the Maid." This is a brilliant show, with perfect acting to express the unique vision of an Emmy-Award winning playwright. Well done, Jasson Minidakis and the entire MTC team. Please don't miss this show. Afterwards, a few glasses of mead will help.

"Mother of the Maid"
Marin Theatre Company
397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley
Through 12-8-19

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