Jane Anderson’s 2018 play retells the oft-dramatized life of Joan of Arc from the point of view of her mother, Isabelle. But though Kate Fry brings flashes of faith, fear, and ferocity to Isabelle, the story itself falls curiously flat, and not just because we know the ending.
Anderson’s use of contemporary vernacular seems designed to conjure the earthiness of Joan’s farming family, which includes choleric father Jacques (Kareem Bandealy) and bratty brother Pierre (Casey Morris). But it feels instead like a playwright making a strained case for the relevance of Joan’s story in our time—when it doesn’t feel like Isabelle is playing Edith Bunker to Jacques’s Archie. Expositional bookending monologues, delivered by Fry’s Isabelle and referring to herself in the third person, distance rather than illuminate.
The question of whether or not Isabelle fully believes Grace Smith’s Joan is having holy visions (and whether her support for her headstrong daughter is rooted at least partly in her own desire for reflected glory) is well worth exploring. But Fry’s Isabelle doesn’t make the shifts in Isabelle’s own feelings about her daughter’s growing fame feel wholly motivated.
That’s not really Fry’s fault or that of director BJ Jones. Rather, it’s the fault of a playwright who picks up lots of tantalizing shiny objects (the perfidy of the clergy, the self-aggrandizement of teenagers) and puts them down before fully exploring what they mean in the context of Isabelle’s relationship to Joan.
Fry and Smith have a scene of great tenderness and sorrow before Joan’s death that suggests the emotional depths Anderson could have reached if she’d spent more time really investing in the mother-daughter connection, rather than using it as a clothesline for airing out a story that’s been told many times before. v