For centuries, writers have turned the story of Joan of Arc into every manner of film, television, opera, and theatrical works. Usually told from Joan’s perspective, in Mother of the Maid, playwright Jane Anderson tells her story through a different lens.
“Anderson has stuck close to history in that she’s examined the true story of the family surrounding Joan of Arc’s narrative,” says Kaitlin Williams, who directs Mother of the Maid as the season opener for Vancouver’s Pacific Theatre. “Instead of following Joan’s story, it follows her mother Isabelle and the journey she takes as the mother to this remarkable young woman.”
To illustrate, Williams points to a particular scene as Isabelle goes to court.
“The lady of the court is also a mother from a different background than Isabelle but we get to see these two mothers interact, connect, and have this moment of kinship,” she explains. “That’s at the heart of this play. It is about Joan of Arc for sure, but I think it really is about parenting. It’s about motherhood itself.”
“It is definitely a mother-daughter story, but the entire family contributes to the story of Joan, of her growing up and how it affects her family,” adds Ian Butcher, who plays Joan’s father Jacques.
More than a story about motherhood and family though, Williams also sees Mother of the Maid connecting with parents today who will identify with the journey of a willful teenager.
“Whether they’re going off to war, or have other remarkable circumstances, moms and dads will recognize what that is like,” says Williams.
Not the first time Butcher has been part of telling Joan of Arc’s story, having performed in Shaw’s Saint Joan at the Chemainus Theatre Festival in 2008, it was in Anderson’s unique perspective in Mother of the Maid that got him most excited.
“Doing Shaw’s play was a great experience, but this is very different,” he says. “It’s wonderful to be part of something that’s showing a different side of her journey and is such a wonderful take on Joan.”
Despite being set in the 15th century though, Anderson creates another bridge for today’s audiences in Mother of the Maid.
“It’s not like any Joan of Arc telling I have ever encountered before,” says Williams. “We are setting it in the time and there are period costumes, but the language is contemporary and the situation is very relatable to today.”
Given Pacific Theatre’s mandate to explore the “spiritual aspects of human experience”, Mother of Maid does not ignore the more enigmatic facets to Joan’s story, with her visions and divine quest just as much a part of Anderson’s retelling, as it is an examination of parenting.
“One thing I really love about the play is it questions some of this,” says Williams. “In this version, she doubts herself. She’s not this pure, saintly version that we have seen before.”
Mother of the Maid also contains plenty of humour, an aspect one would not immediately consider given it is the story of a woman sent to lead a war where the heroine meets an untimely end at a fiery stake.
“I think the audience will laugh at many recognizable moments,” says Williams. “We’ve all been teenagers, we’ve all locked horns with a parent. How could a story about Joan of Arc be so funny? When family is involved, it is.”
Mother of the Maid opens at Vancouver’s Pacific Theatre on September 13 and continues through October 5. Visit pacifictheatre.org for tickets and information.