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Monday, August 03, 2015

Unholy Mother

WHEN SAINT CATHERINE ADDRESSES the audience in Jane Anderson’s new play Mother of the Maid, it’s with the easy familiarity of someone versed in the current century’s attitudes. Then she introduces us to Joan of Arc, a 15th-century farm kid having saintly visions. It’s one of the delightfully anachronistic touches Anderson created for the piece because, as she explains, “I needed to shake it up to get it as far from Shaw as possible.”
Jane Anderson and Matthew Penn
Photo by B. A. Nilsson
Mother of the Maid is having its world premiere at Shakespeare & Company, bringing Anderson back to the stage after significant work in television and film—including the teleplay for the mini-series Olive Kittredge, which just won the Emmy Award-winning writer another Emmy nomination.

But she’s delighted to return to this less-lucrative world. “I come from theater,” says Anderson. “It’s where my heart is. I’ve been lucky enough to write things for film and television that also come from my heart. As artists, I don’t think we should ever divide between them, because all of these mediums are strong and very, very exciting. Theater offers those beautiful, thrilling relationships that start in the rehearsal room and then continue with the audience.”

We’re speaking in the green room at the theater, where Anderson and director Matthew Penn are about to begin the third rehearsal of this production. Penn directed last season’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike and Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane the season before that, and also is co-artistic director of the Berkshire Playwrights Lab, which is where Mother of the Maid began its current journey.

“I read the play and thought it was fantastic,” says Penn, “so we did it as the opening of the season last summer, shortly after a thunderstorm had knocked out all power in Great Barrington, including the Mahaiwe Theater, and in some act of God, the power came back on—”

“I secretly prayed to Joan,” Anderson interrupts. “I stood there and said, ‘Please bring our power back.’”

“And the power came back on, and it was very clear that there was a marvelous play here. So we sent it to Shakespeare and Company, and I made a very impassioned speech on the play’s behalf. And they turned out to be very open to having me do it.”

As for the play itself, “Joan of Arc is an archetype,” says the playwright. “Every actress probably has read Shaw, so they have a preconceived idea of who Joan is. My Joan is written to be a very basic peasant girl who is probably the quiet one in her village, but who is like some movie stars who are quiet in private life but, when you put them up in front of a camera, take on the persona you’re familiar with.

“Joan’s charisma is public, not private. It’s more terrifying for her to tell her Mom about her visions than it is to go to a castle and tell the Duke. Because that’s public. But when we’re dealing with the approval of our parents—that’s the greatest terror of all.”

Mother of the Maid stars Tina Packer – whose new book Women of Will has gone into its second printing – as well as her son, Jason Asprey. Also in the cast are Elizabeth Aspenlieder, Nigel Gore, Nathaniel Kent, Bridget Saracino, and Anne Troup. Previews begin July 30 and run through Aug. 6; the show opens on Aug. 7 and runs through Sept. 6. For tickets and show times, call (413) 637-3353.

Metroland Magazine, 30 July 2015

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