Last week, two memorable mothers showed up on a stage and a screen in New York.
Playwright Jane Anderson wondered what Joan of Arc’s mother and father must have thought when their daughter approached them with her latest news.
If you were the parent of this teenager, would you believe that St. Catherine was talking directly to her and urging her to lead the French army against the British?
In most any situation where parents are at a loss or at loggerheads with their child, Mom usually is the more understanding. That’s the case here, which is why Anderson chose MOTHER OF THE MAID as her title.
Anderson’s play is full of surprises, but there’s no surprise that Glenn Close is a magnificent Isabelle. She is even-tempered when trying to reason with Joan, and only turns to frustrated anger as a last resort.
Watch Close closely when she gets to the castle where Joan has been camped out and is offered her first drink in a glass that is actually glass. The goblet sparkles, but not nearly as much as Close’s eyes.
It’s given to her by Lady of the Court (that’s all that Anderson calls her). We’re used to seeing a knee-jerk reaction from high-borns when they automatically find peasants revolting and then lord their so-called superiority over them. Not this Lady, who is in awe of the woman who brought this extraordinary teen girl into the world. So she’s wonderful to Isabelle to the point where she attends to the woman in a most unexpected, tender and self-sacrificing way.
(Kate Jennings Grant has since left the cast, so let’s hope that Kelley Curran, her replacement, can convey what her predecessor did: a noble who truly is noble.)
And yet, Isabelle can only be grateful for so long. After Lady uses an adjective that strikes Isabelle as unfairly judgmental, Close strikes back. Even if this costs Isabelle, she’ll stay true to her principles. We smile as we see where Joan gets her backbone.
When the armor-clad Joan enters, Close registers how stunned Isabelle is to see her daughter totally assimilated into a higher lifestyle. However, Anderson did miss a good opportunity to underline Joan’s advancement; when the girl is asked to sign a letter, she merely scrawls an “X.” Let’s see the newly educated lass write her name.
Isabelle will learn fast, too. When she sees the advantages of honey in hives, Close blithely says to her husband “We should keep some bees, too!” showing her expanding horizons.
The Catholic Church has long taken a good deal of hell-level heat for not supporting Joan when she most needed help. It atoned for its sin a mere 489 years later by making heretic Joan into Saint Joan. Anderson apparently hasn’t forgiven the outfit, for she’s written a powerful scene to show that the Church is ready to abandon a belief or two if it were to solve a problem. She also has the peasants note without irony that the church is the only institution that has gold.
We all know that Joan is doomed, so a scene where mother and daughter exchange a tearful farewell might be expected. Anderson is wiser than that and gives the two a different and unexpected conversation. At times it’s matter-of-fact in a way that suggests they’re in denial; at others, they show they know that time is both precious and fleeting so they won’t allow themselves to squander their last opportunity to – well, chat.
You’ll hear anachronisms. The term “Okay” wasn’t coined until the early 19th century, but here it is, employed almost five hundred years earlier. Just as odd is hearing a Frenchwoman use the adjective “bloody” in the way the British do — especially with France warring with England.
Anderson’s intention probably is to show the timeless struggle between parents and their teenagers. But 52 years ago, James Goldman managed to write about a British royal family that lived more than two centuries earlier with his THE LION IN WINTER; he didn’t stoop to using words not yet in existence.
Dermot Crowley effectively plays Jacques Arc, another father who tries to be the lord of the manor as the world expects him to be. Dad doesn’t do as well as he’d hoped. Let’s call him a lion in the dead of winter.
Daniel Pearce rather resembles the fondly remembered Frank Morgan, who’ll always be known as The Wizard of Oz. That’s apt, for here Pearce portrays a priest who’s about as effective as the not-so-great and not-so-powerful Oz. What kind of consolation is “Don’t lose hope,” the advice to which he defaults more than once?
It wouldn’t be much of a production if it didn’t have a stunning Joan. Newcomer Grace Van Patten excels as a take-charge teen, absolutely steadfast even when the end is upon her. Director Matthew Penn deserves immense credit for taking a chance on this relative newcomer. Her triumph is only one of his in staging MOTHER OF THE MAID.
The mother in EVERYBODY’S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE has a less dire but still significant problem with her offspring. Jamie New is overwhelmingly effeminate and as proud as he can be about himself. His father loathes him and left his wife partly because of his sissy son. Now when the lad goes to visit him, he won’t even let the boy in the house.
Margaret New, though, stands by her man-boy to the point where she buys him those flaming red high heels as a birthday present. This is the mother many of us will wish we could have had.
The musical is a London success that’s about to start its second year at the Apollo Theatre. It may well come to Broadway and other American cities, but just in case it doesn’t — or you just can’t wait for it — a video will be screened at various cinemas om Nov. 7, 11 and 14. If it’s shown anywhere near your neck of the woods, get there.
It’s probably to only chance you’ll have to see John McCrea’s much acclaimed performance as Jamie; he’s leaving leave the show at month’s end.
Video has some advantages over Showtime at the Apollo. Close-ups give cinema attendees better views than even those in the Apollo’s premium seats. They’ll also see how hard set decorators work: a Little Miss Princess mug is on view in the kitchen. (Here’s betting that it belongs to Jamie and not Margaret.) And while we can’t help noticing that not all of the 16 candles on Jamie’s birthday cake are lit, we also see that Jamie wears a button that states “I am not a drama queen.”
Oh, yes, he is. He wants to wear a dress to the school’s prom and the authorities forbid it. He’s single-minded about it, which will get support from some audience members while others will agree with the teacher who cites complaints from parents and “This prom isn’t all about you.”
Video offers liabilities, too. Head mics, wires snaking up the backs of necks and facial sweat are easily seen. It’s not so-called flop sweat, though, for this is a staunch and even powerful musical.
Dan Gillespie Sells’ music has the right sound for both the teens and adults. Tom MacRae’s book keeps us emotionally involved while his lyrics are the real wonder. Many who work in today’s musical theater ignore the Golden Age standard of writing only perfect rhymes and correctly accenting each syllable. False rhymes and stresses abound, but not here: MacRae offers near impeccable craft. This is even more apparent in the video, for close-ups and superior sound are there to more easily reveal any flaws.
The video truly is akin to the theatrical experience in that there’s no editing out set changes; the stage remains in darkness as the eight-piece band plays. It’s quiet, though, during a scene where Jamie meets three drag queens. You might expect a song here, but the authors and superb director Jonathan Butterell (whose idea the show was) obviously knew that such a ditty would be compared (and probably unfavorably) to GYPSY’s “You Gotta Get a Gimmick.”
No, EVERYBODY’S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE wants to be fresh at every turn. Jamie is his own man, and this musical is, too.