By Lucy Komisar
Glen Close is a terrific actress. Too bad she is starring in such a bad play. She makes it worth watching, even if you cringe at Jane Anderson‘s hokey script that walks straight out of television, dumbing down events of the 15th century so viewers can connect as they do to their favorite sit-com. Anderson has done a lot of TV, and we see the result.
Think of Joan of Arc, here Joanie (Grace Van Patten) calling her mother “Ma” and speaking with a slight New York twang. Or her mother, Isabelle (Close), dressing down a lady of the king‘s court and inviting the lady‘s daughters to visit her “s…hole” of a peasant‘s house where they will learn how to behave. Did you think this was a faithful take on what might have happened in those days?
Other examples. Talking about Saint Catherine whose voices Joan, I mean Joanie, hears. “She‘s a lovely saint. She‘s got a halo.”
Mom says: “If you play your cards right, you could be an Abbess.”
When Joan says God has a plan for her to lead an army and drive the English out of France, Mom retorts, “Oh, stop. Get off your high horse.”
Mom plans to visit the Dauphin‘s palace. Her son, who has accompanied Joan there, promises, “I‘ll show you a good time, Ma.”
Joan arrives in her male doublet and trousers. Nicole, the Lady of the Court (fine understudy Kelley Curran) tells her the outfit is a hit, “some of the ladies have ordered doublets.”
Mom is miffed when told she can‘t see Joan till the young woman is finished praying. I liked Joan‘s descent in an ethereal white dress on stairs surrounded by banks of votive candles. Lovely Hollywood stuff.
So, what do you talk about in the palace? Jacques (Dermot Crowley) her father, remarks that you can‘t heat a room with ceilings so high.
Joan, in armor, tells her family, “It‘s a big day. I‘m glad you‘re here.”
The problem with this play is that it‘s a cartoon. The characters do not fit into that period. Jane Greenwood’s costumes are of the 15th century, but the language is today’s vernacular. I almost expected a character to say, I was like….. or end a sentence on the upswing. I assume director Matthew Penn played a role in creating the sit-com mood. If this were a “silent,” his direction would have been fine.
After the English capture Joan, her brother remarks, “She‘s a celebrity. She will be safe.” I cringed.
The family priest recommends they light votive candles. “Of course, I‘ll waive the fee.”
Close is terrific as the mother, at times calm, sorrowful, angry, distraught, determined, with great emotional power. Van Patten is a sweet ingénue, but it‘s hard to see in her the woman who inspired the French army. Crowley as Dad and Andrew Hovelson as the brother are fine for TV. I found Kelley Curran diverting as the Lady of the Court; she would fit perfectly on a ladies‘ daytime talk show. Clothes, kids‘ education, etc, and very generous in spirit, nothing like the selfish aristocrats we’ve learned about.
Well, we know how it turned out, in the play and life. Captured by French nobles allied with the English, she was put on trial by a pro-English bishop and burned at the stake May 1431 in Rouen. She was 19. Could the French king have saved her? The argument is that he didn‘t have the cash the British demanded as ransom.
Only 25 years later, a papal court pronounced her innocent, declared her a martyr. She would be made a saint in 1920.
As her dad comments, it was all politics. Called heresy at the time. A convenient target in the British-French Hundred Years Wars. Against an aggressive female, no less. Today, her accusers would say she was an agent of the Russians!
If you visit Rouen Cathedral, you will see a poster on the facade inviting you to a Jeanne d‘Arc internet site and, inside, an altar devoted to her life.
“The Mother of the Maid.” Written by Jane Anderson, directed by Matthew Penn. Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St., New York City. 212-967-7555. Opened Oct 17, 2018, closes December 23, 2018. Run Time 2 hrs, 10 min. 11/3/18.