Mother of the Maid is a testament to the love of mothers everywhere, just in time for Mother's Day
by Cassiopeia Guthrie, May 1, 2022
"Think it was hard being Joan of Arc? Try being her mother," the ads intone. Mother of the Maid doesn't disappoint. This SoCal premiere of Jane Anderson's dramatic work delves into the psyche of a mother... and not just any mother, but that of the infamous Joan of Arc, in its run at Moxie Theatre from April 24-May 22, 2022.
This production, the Moxie directorial debut of Desireé Clark, was exactly what it promised. While the story captures the life of Joan Arc (Mikaela Rae Macias) from her visions of St. Catherine to her ultimate death at the stake for heresy and beyond, the real focus is on the emotional journey of her mother, Isabelle (played winningly by Jennifer Eve Thorn), as she goes from pious but skeptical, to protective and proud, to broken and rebuilt. Thorn and Macias shine in their respective roles. Macias carries a charisma through act 1 - bright eyes and a bounce in her step - that contrasts how broken she becomes when she ultimately finds herself to be abandoned by her saint and on trial for heresy. Thorn starts the show by breaking the fourth wall, boldly making eye contact with audience members and setting the scene in a third person monologue. However, Thorn's real triumph lies in her range and how she communicates Isabelle's fear of the unknown, ire for a system that has so devastatingly betrayed her child, and brokenness, shielded by a mother's intuition that what her girl needs is strength in her hour of need. There are really no words to describe how beautifully she creates these moments that every mother will recognize.
In fact, all actors in this production were well cast and capable, each with a very different role to fulfill in encouraging, dissuading, supporting, or catapulting Joan's journey to the front lines of the French army. Dave Rivas plays her father, Jacques Arc, a tough, hypermasculine "Da" who spends much of the production blustering, but ultimately delivers a searingly emotional monologue near the end of the production that shows how much he truly cares about his daughter, while affable and immature soldier/brother Pierre Arc is played with energy and verve by Zack King, especially hilarious in his recognizable teenage mannerisms as he listens to Joan's bold letter dictation to her enemies.
Once Isabelle arrives at court, she is greeted by Nicole, the Lady of the Court (Sarah Alida LeClair), who capably plays larger than life nobility. LeClair fills the room with dramatic gentility (in a stunning iridescent maroon dupioni gown, replete with chapel train, luxe gathers, and gold edging, created by costume designer Courtney Ohnstad) tempered with the best intentions of a mother who has only ever known privilege - it is a stark contrast to Isabelle's plainspoken sensibility, and yet it is clear that both women deeply love their children. In one cliché moment, Isabelle rejects Nicole's offer to invite Joan to her summer home, clearly put out at not being able to provide the same for her daughter; the jealousy is poignant and recognizable, as is the kind intent on Nicole's side. The interaction, even in such a removed historical time, feels as if it could be happening today. Rounding out the cast, Marc C. Petrich's vocal inflections and mannerisms are the perfect fit for 15th century priest Father Gilbert, and Sergio Diaz-Delgado solidly portrays the stoic Scribe and Guard.
Like the aforementioned Lady of the Court apparel, most costume pieces throughout the production were beautifully executed, consummately fitted, and with clear attention to detail from trim to leather corset ties. In particular, Jacques' blue robe with frog closure and gold emblems on the cuffs established a clear change of scenery to the king's court, and Joan's simple but effective prison costume of torn white blouse, tan pants, and bare feet made Macias appear childlike, heralding the heartbreak any history buff knew was to come.
The performances were elegantly framed in a stunning monochromatic set with wood grain throughout, designed by scenic designer Yi-Chien Lee. A suspended beam across the stage housed a trio of lights with closely placed vertical slats enclosing the walls of the Arc residence, which allowed the lighting designer to play with light bleed, to great effect. The details were incredible, from copper mugs on a table, to wheat stalks and tree branches at intervals throughout the set, to enormous barn doors near the rear. Suspended cream apparel on walls and clotheslines operated as backstage curtains, and immersive woodland sounds transported the audience immediately, even as they took their seats, to another time and place.
One consideration of note, which is perhaps a reflection on the script and the sound design choices more than the actor performances: while the playbill lists the historically accurate setting of 1429 in France, some dialectical language in the script and accents from the performers created cognitive dissonance; after all, "d'ya hear," "ain't," and "shite" etymologically weren't appropriate to the 1400s. Adding to this situational friction were the instrumental soundtracks appearing throughout the production, including Girls Just Want to Have Fun, Survivor, and In the End, which at times were just recognizable enough to remove the audience from the story.
All in all, this production was a beautifully crafted one and would be a perfect mother/daughter date approaching the upcoming Mother's Day weekend. Mother of the Maid continues for 3 remaining weekends, running through May 22: Thursdays (7:30 p.m.), Fridays/Saturdays (8 p.m.), and Sundays (2 p.m.). For tickets: https://www.moxietheatre.com/tickets/.