Tuesday, August 04, 2015

A Critique of MOTHER OF THE MAID by Jane Anderson at Shakespeare & Company

In my family we are huge fans of Shakespeare & Company, and this vacation my husband and I saw two Shakespeare plays, as well as three of the contemporary plays, and we’re booked for the one with my heart-throb, John Douglas Thompson.

The last one we saw was a preview of Mother of the Maid, which is brand new. I have some issues with the writing, even though I was moved to tears by the big scene between the Mother and Joan of Arc:  Anne Troup was a fine Joan, and I could happily watch as well as listen to Tina Packer reading the back of a cereal box.

I am also fond of spin-offs of literature and history and have written several short stories of that type myself.  All of this is to make it clear I am writing this post with deep affection and respect for everything I’ve ever seen done at S&Co.

I was, however, jarred and put off by the language in Mother of the Maid.  In these re-visionings of events from the far past, it is always a problem as to how to handle the language.  My preference is to keep it as simple as possible, thus keeping attention on the story.  Also, maybe it’s that I was hearing too much Shakespeare, and the Shakespeare & Co. crew speaks Shakespeare’s speeches so well that you get spoiled– both by their delivery of the lines and, of course, by Shakespeare’s words themselves.

The other contemporary plays I saw  this season, however,  fell well on the ear:  Sarah Treem’s The How and Why manages some beautiful speeches using imagery from science.  The Unexpected Man is largely made up of two people telling themselves stories, and their voices and stories were entertaining and graceful.

But Mother of the Maid – again granting the intrinsic problem of creating language for medieval French peasants– is overwhelmed by an awkward mishmash of catchphrases. I was fine with everyone speaking British– it gave some distance and was no more unlikely than American English.  What bothered me was things like “I’ll be there for you,” and “sucks” as an epithet.  There was a lot of that.  Much too much.

Then there was St. Catherine, who spoke in a not-quite Valley girl style that, when combined with the playwright’s effort to make her connect with us dumb audience members, set my teeth on edge.  Worst was probably the moment when St. Catherine explains how parents always go to their children’s recitals and ball games–so therefore, we must understand that if we had burnings at the stake nowadays, we’d go to support our kids at those too.  It was just condescending and totally unnecessary.

St. Catherine’s role was interesting, and the actress was terrific in The How and Why, but I could have used a lot less of her in this one, at least after the lovely first scene when Joan embraces her knees.  That was nice.

Anyhow, Tina was wonderful, the final speeches of Nigel Gore and the Pierre were moving.  The prison scene between the Mother and Joan was a knockout.

But the language was like– you know?--  totally sucky?

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