[Full article published in The Clyde Fitch Report, October 17, 2018.]
As Isabelle Arc, Glenn Close is a no-nonsense, straight-talking, country woman. She speaks to us from France in the early 1400s amid the Hundred Years War in Jane Anderson’s play Mother of the Maid, now running at the Public Theater. This is Isabelle’s story: the subtitle of the play is “the sorry tale of Joan of Arc as seen through the eyes of her mum.” And as a human tale of love, adoration and the costs of commitment and passion, it’s hardly a sorry one. It’s a story so human, it’s divine.
Close is on stage for nearly every moment, rooting our focus and solemnly embracing the action. Her Isabelle might be a Trump voter if she lived today, but it’s more probable she wouldn’t have voted at all. Civilian and religious politics are far outside her peasant world of family, sheep and a moderately successful rural life. Close’s careful performance choices as the mother of a child who dreams of leading an army will break your heart: a touch on a wounded wrist; a march for days across muddy roads.
Isabelle and her husband Jacques (stolid Dermot Crowley) are certainly beginning to worry about their headstrong daughter, Joan (earnest, powerful, youthful Grace Van Patten), who resists romance and marriage and claims that St. Catherine is sending her messages from God to drive the English from France. Joan’s brother, Pierre (charming Andrew Hovelson), tussles with her like most siblings, but then he becomes one of her loyal soldiers. This is a Joan, in other words, not yet a saint but not yet ready for martyrdom. We meet Joan after she commits to her journey: we can watch her enjoy the pleasures of court life and we can see her suffer when she’s imprisoned, all before she’s burned for daring to be different.
Isabelle, meanwhile, wants only to ensure her daughter’s future. Hers is a hopeful, loving soul; the mother of a proud, righteous, sturdy, adolescent girl. As Anderson dramatizes it, this is a family that fights, loves and cries potently and exquisitely.