Review: ‘Mother of the Maid’ at Marin Theatre Company (***)

by Charles Kruger

Isabelle Arc (Sherman Fracher) and her daughter, Joan Arc (Rosie Hallett).
Reviewed by a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle.

Jane Anderson’s “Mother of the Maid” is a fairly predictable family melodrama, gussied up with some interesting historical dressing. Last year, Glen Close scored a big success at New York’s Public Theater in the role of Joan of Arc’s mother, Isabelle, in a performance described in the New York Times as “triumphant.”  That review described Close as a “bona fide stage star at the height of her powers.” And that is the point of this play:  it is designed as an emotional showcase for an actress of a certain age to pull out the stops.

Happily, with the great Sherman Fracher in the same part, Marin Theatre Company also has a “bona fide stage star at the height of her powers.” She may not have the cache of an academy-award winning movie star, but she surely has the chops! Fracher’s “Mother of the Maid” is passionate, smart, earthy, loving, joyful,  and inspiring. The part calls for an operatic range of emotion, and Fracher never flags in delivering the goods.

She discovers with astonishment that her daughter is a saint, follows her military career, fights with Joan’s father to let Joan find her destiny, struggles with her son, and, eventually visits both the French Court (where she more than holds her own, in spite of a lack of “breeding”) and ultimately England to stand by her daughter when she is burned at the stake. The emotional ride is fabulous.

While Fracher is clearly the star of the story, she is more than ably supported by Rosie Hallett as the vibrant, talented Joan, and Scott Coopwood, as her husband Jacques Arc. The family scenes among the three of them (with the addition of Brennan Pickman-Thoon as Joan’s ambitious brother Pierre) are the heart of the play, and they work beautifully.

Robert Sicular as a very politic priest and Liz Sklar as a well-meaning Lady of the Court are also excellent.

As literature, “Mother of the Maid” is well constructed and straight forward, but nothing special. As a vehicle for Sherman Fracher in the titular role, it is very fine indeed.

Sets and costumes by Sean Fanning and Sarah Smith, respectively, are just the thing, providing the necessary historical pageantry. And other design elements (Chris Lundahl’s lighting and Sara Huddleston’s sound) are excellent. Original music by Chris Houston, performed by vocalist and cellist Penina Biddle-Gottesman, supports the text quite well.

“Mother of the Maid” continues at Marin Theatre Company through December 15th. For further information, click here.

Rating: *** (For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

Please Read This (click here)

“Mother of the Maid” by Jane Anderson. Directed by Jason Minadakis. Scenic Designer: Sean Fanning. Costume Designer: Sarah Smith. Lighting Designer: Chris Lundahl. Sound Designer: Sara Huddleston. Composer: Chris Houston.

Cast: Jacques Arc: Scott Coopwood. Isabelle Arc: Sherman Fracher. Joan Arc: Rosie Hallett. Pierre Arc: Brennan Pickman-Thoon. Father Gilbert: Robert Sicular. Lady of the Court: LIz Sklar.

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