By Jane Anderson. Directed by Kaitlin Williams. A Pacific Theatre production. At Pacific Theatre on Friday, September 13. Continues until October 5
Mother of the Maid reframes the story of Joan of Arc as a family drama, as seen through the eyes of Joan’s mother, Isabelle.
Isabelle clashes with her daughter over Joan’s visions of St. Catherine, witnesses her rise to commander of French troops during the Hundred Years’ War, and finally sees her burned at the stake at the age of 19.
There are a few truly great scenes in this Pacific Theatre production, and they come at the very end, when Joan has been condemned to death. Both Anita Wittenberg as Isabelle and Shona Struthers as Joan are at their best portraying these moments of profound grief; their final scene together, as Isabelle dresses Joan for the gallows, distills the spirit of the entire play into one heartbreaking scene, pulled off wonderfully. It’s Struthers who really brings it home here, when Joan’s courage finally breaks and she just disintegrates with terror. It’s so hard to watch, and so remarkable.
There isn’t much to say about what comes before the climax, although Wittenberg does a fine job in the title role. She delivers well on the comedy, but struggles in Isabelle’s moments of anger or contempt. Ian Butcher as Jacques, Joan’s father, is fairly consistent throughout, with harsh, commanding anger—which is the only emotion his character gets to show.
The rest of the ensemble is weaker, and together the actors can’t fully produce the crispness or tension that should draw the audience in. It’s partly a direction problem: the characters are often rooted to the spot in a way that feels pointless, evincing a lacklustre vision where there should be tight blocking.
To its credit, these problems don’t cost the production much. It’s still enjoyable enough, and it ticks all the boxes of a decent family drama, a period piece, and a stylized Joan of Arc retelling. There’s some nice colour added by the wildflower mural on the floor—cleverly ringed around a bright saint’s halo—and a notable effort put into props, such as clay bowls containing real food. The costumes are serviceable, and designers Stephanie Kong and Jessica Oostergo really do nail Joan’s powerfully androgynous look, with her short hair, armour, and doublets.
The audience won’t be bored as the show wades through the weeds to get to the real emotion at the end. And when they see Jacques and Isabelle deliver their last, devastating monologues about their lost daughter, finally giving performances that whisk us into the moment with them, everything else is likely to fade away.