Peace For Mary Frances
By Joseph Cervelli
First time playwright Lily Thorne’s “Peace for Mary Frances” presented by The New Group at The Pershing Square Signature Centre is thoroughly exasperating. This play which lacks structure and has characters walking from room to room like robots is directed by the usually very reliable Lila Neugebauer . But she can add nothing to this with thoroughly disagreeable characters in a lumbering slice of life drama.
While it is always wonderful to have the memorable Lois Smith in any play, even she can do little to save this for her own character is not all that likeable. She portrays the title character who is the matriarch of an Armenian family, and decides that at age 90 and suffering from water on her lungs it is time for her to die. She seems vital enough except for this issue, and it is more than strange that no family member (and what a bunch they are!) even tries to convince her that if this medical condition was cleared up it would make her life easier. But they themselves are such a miserable bunch they care for no one but their own lives. Her one daughter the messed up Fanny (Johanna Day) is an ex-heroin addict now on methadone and is estranged from her daughter which her family enjoys taunting her about. She seems to be taking care of her mother but her sister Alice (J. Smith-Cameron) who took off from her job spends most of the time complaining about having to now take care of her mother because according to her Fanny has no idea what she is doing. Alice is also an astrologer and spends most of the time complaining she has no money and is thankful that her blouse cost her about $8.00.
There is divorced brother Eddie (Paul Lazar) a lawyer having the personality of a wet dishrag and spending most of the time sitting by his mother’s bed eating lunch.
There are two other family members both of whom are Alice’s daughters. Rosie (Natalie Gold) spends time at her grandmother’s house with her baby and her sister Helen (Heather Burns) is an actress on a television series and seems depressed. Since neither characters add nil to the play it makes little sense for their being there. What also makes even far little sense is why the family decides for no apparent reason to speak about the Armenian Genocide. Thorne just inserts dialogue that has no bearing on the proceedings.
Bonnie (Mia Katigbak) is the hospice nurse who seems a bit forgetful leaving the morphine in the car and Brian Miskell (Michael) is the hospice psychologist while Melle Powers is Clara the home healthcare aide.
Besides dealing with the cacophony of the family which is unceasing there are scenes that are just not believable. When Mary Frances asks Bonnie how long she has to live the nurse answers, “About two days.” It is hard to believe any health care provider would make such a ludicrous statement. Michael walks into the bedroom where Mary Frances spends just about the entire play, introduces himself and leaves. Why would a psychologist not speak to ascertain her frame of mind. In one scene Mary Frances hears something from outside her window and literally sprints out of bed astonishing her daughter Alice. Has a miracle occurred or is this just to give the play some bounce? Well, neither is the case here.
Despite some committed performances, it is a completely dismal play with characters that are either objectionable or just plain bores complete with dialogue that sinks into the mundane.
Mary Frances does find peace at the conclusion and happily so does the audience when they are about to exit.
Tickets are available at the New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Centre 480 West 42nd Street or by calling 212.279.4200.
PHOTOS CREDIT: MONIQUE CARBONI