Monday, November 5, 2018

Mother of the Maid

Last week, I had the privilege of seeing Jane Anderson's new play Mother of the Maid at The Public Theater.

Anderson, who also wrote Defying Gravity, uses her latest play to tell the story of Joan of Arc through the eyes of saint's mother. The result is a touching story of fame, glory, family, and heartbreak.

Stage and screen legend Glenn Close plays Isabelle Arc, the titular mother in the piece, and her daughter is played by Grace Van Patten, a relative newcomer who was also in The New Group's production of The Whirligig last year. Both performers hold their own, however, and they are complimented by a supporting cast that includes Dermot Crowley, Andrew Hovelson, and Daniel Pearce.

I saw the matinee performance on Halloween. During the first scene, some ghosts or goblins must have been playing tricks on us, because a power drill could clearly be heard somewhere offstage. Close and Van Patten continued through the noise, but then hammering started. Didn't the noisemaker know there were multiple matinees going on in the building? Close turned to the audience, apologized, and asked out loud if something could be done to stop the noise. A voice over the intercom said, "Absolutely!" The audience burst into applause.

The intercom voice said that Ms. Close could go offstage and wait, but Glenn (can I call her Glenn, now?) said she'd wait with the audience. "Anybody have any questions about the show?" she asked. Our new personal friend Glenn then answered questions about the play, her career, and her life. She graciously complimented both Anderson's play and her co-star Grace. (Sure, we can call her Grace!) She asked people in the audience where they were from. "Tasmania? When I went to Paris to shoot Dangerous Liaisons, we had a nanny to help with my daughter who had just been born, and our nanny was from Tasmania. The sweetest woman!"

Eventually, the noise stopped and the performance resumed. If you read this blog regularly, you know I'm a sucker for Joan of Arc plays, and that my own play Dark Night of the Soul tells the story of the saint's trial. (It also won the Nittany Theatre at the Barn's 2017 Theatre of the First Amendment Play Festival.) Anderson's handling of the story is different than most, however, as we glimpse Joan's life through the lives of others. Some of the most interesting scenes were between Isabelle and a Lady of the Court, played by Kelley Curran. I'd seen Curran before in the Red Bull Theater Company's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, but she particularly impressed me in this role, as a clueless but well-meaning noblewoman who wants to help but is powerless amidst the political turmoil of war-torn France.

The delay in the performance meant that I was late for the "Frankenreads" event at the Morgan Library that afternoon, but after the performance, I did manage to catch the end of the marathon of readings from Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein. There's also a wonderful exhibition about the book at the Morgan which you should check out, but definitely make sure you get down to the Public, too. Mother of the Maid is not to be missed!