Review of Mother of the Maid, starring Glenn Close, at the Public Theater

  • Our critic's rating:
    October 18, 2018
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    As the title suggests, Mother of the Maid at the Public Theater, is a story of Isabelle Arc who is the mother of – well YOU know. St. Joan. This story is both narrated and experienced by Isabelle (Glenn Close). She appeals to the adult in all of us: how to make a living, feed yourself and your family, keep yourself connected to spirit, and protect those who are younger than you from making mistakes that might ruin them. Nothing new in that.

    Her daughter Joan (Grace Van Patten) is going through a swaggering stage as she wrestles with the visions that engulf her. Saint Catherine visits and consumes Joan with the very source of life. This news is greeted matter-of-factly by Isabelle – visions would be a form of entertainment if nothing else – until it shifts to the reality that Catherine has told Joan to lead an army in support of the Dauphin.


    The news does not go over well – until it does. The local priest (Daniel Pearce) signs off on Joan’s quest due to a message from the Bishop. Isabelle and her husband Jacques (Dermot Crowley) are compelled to let Joan go to court with her brother Pierre (Andrew Hovelson) as a chaperone.

    Off Joan goes in her new breeches, and her parents are left to carry on. Jacques doesn’t trust anything about the situation. He is certain that his daughter is being used. Isabelle has a larger picture. It’s a horrible, horrible world, Jacques. Why would you want to crush this one bit of wonder that’s come our way? Our girl’s been chosen and we both should be fierce proud.

    After this there is a lot of exposition, and the play is reduced to a simmer. It is so slow that what should have been the end of the First Act is followed by a long, uneventful scene of Isabelle seeing the court for the first time. She is snookered by a glass cup and mead.

    The Second Act chugs along at about the same rate. Even the prison scenes are uneventful. One problem is that we all know what happened – at least the basic facts. So if you are going to hook me in, you had better give me something I don’t know but want to. There is little of that here. Not only is the plot wanting, the writing is stiff and uneven. One minute it sounds vaguely 15th century and the next minute we are hearing phrases like, “check this out,” and, “I’ve got it covered.”

    In addition, the characters are not clearly defined. Close swings like a pendulum from being a simple peasant to being a fierce defender of her daughter; from being overwhelmed by the palace to being insulted at the condescension that flows like wine; from being mild to being merciless. She has no clear path in this play, and because she is the fulcrum, the play is out of balance. The result is that this is an altogether pedestrian production that cannot decide what it is or why.

    As the play closes, Isabelle tells us of her own fate. After Jacques' death, she traveled the country, learned to read and write and got herself to Rome. There, she petitioned the Pope to reopen the case against Joan. She testified before the muckety-muck clergy in a tribunal. She was 70 – and in the 1400’s that was NOT the new 50. It was more like being 100. Because of Isabelle, Joan’s conviction of heresy was reversed, and she was declared a saint.

    Isabelle D’Arc did that. It was the final gift from the Mother of the Maid to her daughter.

    Isabelle’s visit to Rome? That is the play I want to see.

    (Photo by Joan Marcus) 

    What the popular press says...

    "Gliding into her 70s, Glenn Close is in her prime. Her performance in Jane Anderson’s four-handkerchief Mother of the Maid, at the Public Theater, is a triumphant blend of sharp sense and passionate sensibility, of an old pro’s expertise and a newcomer’s enthusiasm."
    Ben Brantley for New York Times

    "Mother of the Maid is set in the Middle Ages, but its examination of politics, gender roles and class tensions make it painfully relevant, and its portrait of parental love is universal. Simple in structure but emotionally complex, it justifies raising Saint Joan from the dead yet again."
    Regina Robbins for Time Out New York

    "Mother of the Maid, of course, is about being a parent, and the beauty of Anderson’s words as spoken by Close is how this mother’s unreserved love is continually being bombarded by baser feelings of envy, competition and, finally, privilege when Joan becomes the court’s biggest celebrity for a day or two."
    Robert Hofler for The Wrap

    "This stunningly minor play, first seen three years ago at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts, with Tina Packer in the title role, has been unearthed as a vehicle to reunite the estimable Glenn Close with her screenwriter on "The Wife". But despite the stage veteran's vigorous, always commanding presence, all she really needs here is a corncob pipe to transport her from 15th century France to the hayseed world of Ma Kettle."
    David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter

    "After a disastrous foray into the world of Joan of Arc with the musical Joan of Arc: Into the Fire, the Public Theater makes an ill-advised return to the subject with its new production of Jane Anderson's play Mother of the Maid — the story of Joan’s beleaguered mom, fiercely played by the commanding Glenn Close. Focusing on the complex travails of parenting, the play still comes down to women suffering grittily. But it’s a tiresome road to that inevitable outcome."
    Nicole Serratore for Variety

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Times - Time Out - The Wrap - Hollywood Reporter - Variety