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Saturday, July 20, 2024

Theatre review: Mother of the Maid gives a uniquely satisfying perspective on history

Pacific Theatre opens its season with a re-telling of Joan of Arc's story through maternal and familial eyes

If you tell a story where the audience already knows the outcome, you better have something new to say or a new way to say it. Fortunately, Jane Anderson does both in Mother of the Maid, which opens Pacific Theatre’s 2019-2020 season.

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 Anderson tells her story through the eyes of Joan’s mother and family.

But beyond the history lesson told from this unique perspective, Anderson also provides a more relatable story for modern audiences. Through humour and an unexpected tie to the #MeToo movement, Mother of the Maid is just as much about life with a wilful teen.

It is within this framework where Anderson’s retelling finds its biggest strength, and a focus director Kaitlin Williams both recognized and capitalizes on in this production. Going a step further, Anderson eschews the artifice that often accompanies a period drama with modern anachronistic dialogue. Beyond a few misplaced third-person monologues, the contemporary feel, coupled with a welcome lack of accents, ensures realism and relevance.

There is little doubt the star of Mother of the Maid is Joan’s mother, Isabelle, and Anita Wittenberg delivers a powerful performance. Giving a much-needed layering, she gives Isabelle a near perfect balance of maternal love, fear, and exasperation.

While Wittenberg feeds off the equally polished performances of Ian Butcher as husband Jacques and Raes Calvert as son Pierre, it is unsurprising that the biggest emotional connection comes during scenes with daughter Joan.

Played with mesmerizing clarity by Shona Struthers, this emerging actor last seen at Pacific Theatre in the ensemble piece The Wolves in 2018, is one to watch. Struthers is so convincing here as “The Maid of Orléans” you’ll almost wish the playwright gave her more stage time.

While Richard Newman and Chantal Gallant provide solid support in their dual roles, in the difficult role as The Lady of the Court, AJ Simmons struggled to find realism.

Ian Butcher (Jacques Arc) and Anita Wittenberg (Isabelle Arc) share a tender moment in Maid of the Mother. Photo by Jalen Laine Photography.
Ian Butcher (Jacques Arc) and Anita Wittenberg (Isabelle Arc) share a tender moment as husband and wife in Maid of the Mother. Photo by Jalen Laine Photography.

Set designer Carolyn Rapanos provides a simple performance space for the actors, allowing director Williams to provide some swift but inconsistent scene transitions. And while act one’s final scene was striking and beautiful to look at, it is questionable whether the effort is worth it. Costume designers Stephanie Kong and Jessica Oostergo provide the required contrast between the Arc’s farm existence and that of the court.

While the violence in Mother of the Maid comes in the domestic form rather than the battlefield, fight directors Mike Kovac and Ryan Bolton make those few moments both impactful and genuine.

With its unique perspective on history, Mother of the Maid is a welcome start to Vancouver’s theatre season.

Mother of the Maid by Jane Anderson. Directed by Kaitlin Williams. A Pacific Theatre production on stage at Pacific Theatre (1440 West 12th Ave, Vancouver) until October 5. Visit for tickets and information.

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