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Peace For Mary Frances

Natalie Gold and Lois Smith



                   by Arney Rosenblat


Mary Frances has lived a reasonably good life, as lives go, she's ninety years old and ready to die.  Born to refugees fleeing the Armenian genocide, her last wish is to die peacefully at home surrounded by her family.  Her dream, however, collides violently with the reality of a dysfunctional family vying for her money and her approval leaving Mary Frances to navigate the volatile relationships of the children she raised, or at least die trying..


Without a doubt, Peace for Mary Frances has an imposing cast led by the 87 year-old Lois Smith who commands the stage and the heart, even when socked away much of the time in a corner elevated bedroom.  It is she who has sewn the seeds for this fractious family now gathered around her by using money and the promise of maternal love as weapons to control her children, particularly her daughters who are in a perpetual war with one another. Both J. Smith-Cameron as Alice, the middle alienated child now a part-time astrologer, and Johanna Day as Fanny, the recovering addict and youngest of the Mary Frances children are pitch perfect and ever so sad as her damaged progeny while their inept older brother, Eddie, adeptly portrayed by Paul Lazar, selfishly distances himself as much as possible from the disordered proceedings around him.


Lois Smith, J. Smith-Cameron, Paul Lazar                          photos by Monique Carboni.


Alice has tried to break the abuse cycle with her own two daughters. Helen who is a successful TV actor but who battles with OCD and self doubt and Rosie. a new mother herself who is determined not to make the same mistakes as her maternal progenitors.  They are adroitly portrayed by Heather Burns and Natalie Gold, respectively.


Johanna Day, J. Smith-Cameron, Heather Burns 


Ironically, the strength of the cast becomes a problem for the play because the meticulously realistic portrayal of the details entailed in hospice care such as "terminal sedation" or  "When in doubt, medicate," makes the giving in to death an often uncomfortable experience leaving the audience to yearn for Mary Frances' passing as much as she does. "All I want to do is be comfortable," advises Mary Frances, "I'm not fighting this."  


There are some truly touching moments in Peace for Mary Frances such as the dying Mary Frances' relationship with her hospice nurse, Clara, portrayed with nuanced skill by Melle Powers as well as when Mary Frances reveals to her daughter Alice the abuse she suffered during her supposedly loving marriage, "He hit me," she confesses,  "I used to save one dollar a week of my tiny allowance - for everything...I thought we were Charles Dickens poor."  Only shortly before her husband's death did she discover how rich he actually was and the many dalliances he had while they were wed.


Though the play is graced with a top-notch director Lila Neugebauer (Wolves, Edward Albee's At Home at the Zoo), she can't quite compensate for the play's writing and stylistic shortcomings


Ms. Thorne, a student at Brooklyn College, is making her professional playwriting debut with Peace for Mary Frances and she shows much promise with her sense of dialogue and character but would benefit with revisiting the work to tighten the content, smooth the transitions and better develop the ancillary characters associated with Mary Frances' hospice care such as Bonnie and Michael, portrayed effectively by Mia Katigbak and Brian Miskell.  Looking forward to Ms. Thorne refining her writing talents.


Peace for Mary Frances

Pershing Square Signature Center

480 West 42nd Street

Off Broadway Drama

Running time: 2 hrs. and 35 mins.


Closing Date: June 17, 2018