I think I’m done with the Maid of Orleans. Last season’s revival of Shaw’s Saint Joan was OK, but David Byrne’s musical Joan of Arc: Into the Fire (no kidding, that was the title) was dreadful. You’d think the Public Theater, which indulged Byrne, would toss any further Joan scripts, umm, into the fire. But for another week we have Mother of the Maid, which may have crept through the back door. That rebellious hellion and her troublesome visions are part of it, though here the heavy dramatic lifting is done by her mom, who’s wondering why the hell her daughter is suddenly hanging out with soldiers and royalty. It didn’t sound promising, and it played worse. If Glenn Close is the draw, however, you grit your teeth and go.
There was reason for hope. The playwright is Jane Anderson, who wrote the riveting (if far-fetched) The Wife for Close. I enjoy historical dramas, and maybe this would swing for something like The Lion in Winter, which the star did on cable some years back. Mother is, alas, a miss, and part of the blame falls on Close. Clad in mud and rags as Isabelle Arc, she embodies every cliche of the poor but happy farm woman, an earthy sort at a loss to explain Joan (Grace Van Patten, in a muddled interpretation). She suspects masturbation, the kind of easy laugh Anderson falls back on to relieve what I scare-quote as “tension”–there isn’t much, as Isabelle waits to be received at court, which doesn’t know what to make of Joan’s bumpkin family.
Shows like this should brim with intrigue; this one settles for a meditation on 15th century celebrity, which was pretty much Byrne’s meager take on the material. “The fucking duke will do what I say!” howls a frustrated Joan at one point, as if red M&Ms somehow found their way into her all-yellows bowl. Interested parties hang around to snatch some of her glory on her way to martyrdom, leaving Isabelle to wail at God, as only Close can do. It’s an impressive display of rafters-shaking, too late to revive the dozing audience. (Not that there are many rafters to shake; director Matthew Penn has opted for minimal sets and lighting, obliging us to focus on the maximum sentimental melodrama.) I did, however, appreciate Mom’s anti-diarrhea tips for an imprisoned Joan, something to keep in mind when similarly afflicted. Mother knows best, even if Mother of the Maid adds little to the Joanapalooza.