Last week I went to see the play “Mother of the Maid” starring Glenn Close and Grace van Patten at The Public Theater. The story is about the mother of Joan of Arc, the legendary figure who lead French resistance against the British. Glenn Close plays Isabell Arc, Joan’s mother, as she comes to terms with Joan’s visions of Saint Catherine, and Joan’s choice to follow Catherine’s wishes and lead the French in battle.
Before I get into the story, I just have to say, I was in the second row and the stage was literally right there! I definitely made eye contact with the actors because the way the stage is set up, they are level with the first few rows! And seeing the emotion up close really added a fantastic dimension to viewing. Glenn Close is a force of nature and Grace van Patten as Joan really brought so much to the character.
The set was very simple, but effective. The stage was surrounded on three sides by the audience, and the back wall rotated for different locations. In the beginning it was a simple kitchen area, but then it rotated to a bright fleur de lis to represent a noble family’s home, and rotated once again to represent the jail that held Joan when she was captured by the English (spoiler?).
So the story starts when Joan tells her mother she’s having visions of Saint Catherine and they get into a fight, but her mother can’t stop Joan from running off to the French army after she’s convinced a bishop and army captain that her visions are real. The local priest visits to convince Isabel and her husband Jacques that what is happening to Joan is real.
Eventually Isabel gets on board and Joan leaves home after an emotional goodbye. Joan goes to stay with a noble family and Isabel decides that she’s going to walk 300 miles to visit Joan. The scene when Isabel arrives at the castle was so real! They do a foot bath and peel off her socks and that is so gross to watch, it felt so real!
The first act ends on a positive note, everyone is a content at the castle while Joan is off to battle, but the end of the play takes a dark turn. Joan is captured and her mother tries everything in her power to get her free, but no one seems to be concerned about getting her out. The conflict between Isabel, a common farmer’s wife, and the nobility of France is really strong here. And then it just gets worse for these characters.
Despite so much emotion, there were certain elements of the play that didn’t really work for me. Sometimes the characters would be in spotlight and talk about themselves in the third person, which really took me out of the play. There were other choices, like the accents–Joan in particular–that didn’t make much sense. I’m not looking for historical accuracy, but maybe ease up on the Brooklyn accent? While these things were odd, the costumes and staging were interesting. I especially loved the manufactured lightning storm.
I definitely teared up near the end. It was so heart-wrenching. There was a relatable theme here, and the mother daughter bond was real! Glenn Close is a treasure and should be immortalized. And I haven’t seen Grace in anything, but I’ll be following her career!
Thanks to my friend Megan for inviting me!