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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
Mother of the Maid
By Elyse Sommer
The Greek Chorus twist does lighten the inevitably tragic ending and gives audiences a chance to see decidedly current themes about religion and politics in the ancient tale. But the humor of this Saint Catherine's appearances wears thin after a while, though it is a better showcase for Shakespeare & Company newcomer Bridget Saracino than The How and the Why was.
Anderson has proved herself to be an adept playwright — to wit, our California critic's enthusiastic reviews of her Escort, Quality of Life & Looking for Normal and my own review of her splendid adaptation of Elizabeth Strout's Pulitzer Prize winning novel Olive Kitteridge . However, Mother of the Maid is too overstuffed and uneven to rank with her best work. What's likely to fill the Bernstein Theater's seats throughout this world premiere's run is the fact that the title character is played by Shakespeare & Company's beloved and always worth seeing on stage founder Tina Packer.
Packer is her usual crowd-charming self, and at the very top of her game during the final part of the second and better act. Packer's frequent acting partner Nigel Gore is also one of this production's strongest assets as the Arc family's acerbic paterfamilias. His Jacques happens to have the kind of common man's common sense smarts to see through the falseness and hypocrisy that will lead to Joan's martyrdom. And Gore does a remarkable job of letting the love for "his girl" and his wife shine through his character's gruff exterior.
Packer's son Jason Asprey plays Father Gilbert who embodies the church's inadequacy in dealing with Joan's situation (Asprey multi-tasks with several other minor parts). The upper classes are represented by Elizabeth Aspenlieder as a well-intentioned, gorgeously outfitted (Bravo Govane Lohbauer for all the costumes) member of the royal court. Aspenlieder gets a few chances to display her comic skills as the kind but clueless one percenter of her day.
Since the focus is on Joan's family there's also her brother Pierre (an excellentNathaniel Kent). Naturally, no matter what the focus, you can't have a play about the iconic "Maid" without someone to play her. While Anne Troup isn't especially impressive early on, she too comes into her own, in the play's heart-wrenching tragic final moments.
I was glad to note that director Matthew Penn has paid closer attention to the difficulties of the Bernstein Theater's 3-sided stage, than Nicole Ricciardi did in The How and the Why . On the other hand, he's counted on Saracino's insistently "with it' scene setters to pave the way for a mish-mash of accents (from authentic peasant to upper class). Given that these characters are all French under siege by England, one can't help finding the Britspeak a bit at odds with what's happening on this stage.
Perhaps this much told tale is worth re-telling from Anderson's point of view. And if she could find a way to fast forward to the emotionally powerful second act, it might even find a life without Ms. Packer and Nigel Gore to bring out the genuinely touching stuff.