Peace for Mary Frances
The New Group
The Pershing Square Signature Center
June 16, 2018
|Photo courtesy of The New Group|
Lily Thorne’s play, Peace for Mary Frances, chronicles the end of life journey and the toll it takes on a family. The New Group production is sensitive and realistic. Director Lila Neugebauer builds on the conflict in the family dynamic that is deeply embedded in Ms. Thorne’s complex characters. Secrets are revealed and emotions collide, yet the main character finds her peace.
Mary Frances (played by Lois Smith) is nearing ninety years of age and requires oxygen and constant care, which she receives from her daughter, Fanny (played by Johanna Day). Her other daughter, Alice (played by J. Smith-Cameron) believes that Fanny is incapable of caring for their mother. When the doctor finds fluid in her lungs, Mary Frances, who wishes to pass peacefully in her sleep, chooses hospice care. Alice convinces her mother to pay her living expenses so she can move in and supervise her care around the clock. Their brother, Eddie (played by Paul Lazar), visits once a week to maintain his mother’s finances. His sisters are angered when they find out their mother has been paying him to do this. Adding to the stress of the situation is the presence of Alice’s two adult daughters (played by Heather Burns and Natalie Gold). Their memories of their grandmother are loving, which differs from the angst in the relationship between Mary Frances and her daughters. Mary Frances has visions of her dead husband, mother, and father-in-law as she makes her peace, yet she leaves behind a family in turmoil.
|Lois Smith & J. Smith-Cameron|
Photo courtesy of The New Group
The play has a slow and steady pace, especially in the second act. Fueling the action is the conflict between the two sisters. J. Smith-Cameron and Johanna Day go at each other full force in these roles. The history of their relationship and the stress of the situation cause their emotions to flare up in an instant. Their portrayal of this vulnerability is truthful and genuine. Lois Smith is warm, brave, and gutsy as Mary Frances. The way she treats her children reflects a lifetime of experiences and forgiveness, but includes, as she says, never forgetting. She embraces her grandchildren and looks longingly into the eyes of her great grandbaby, maintaining a connection to life up to the very end.
|Johanna Day, J. Smith-Cameron, & Heather Burns|
Photo courtesy of The New Group
The set, designed by Dane Laffrey, is a split level masterpiece, showing the living room, kitchen, and back porch on stage right, and Mary France’s bedroom about a half a flight up on stage left. It is constructed as if one wall of the house opened up so the audience could peer in on this family in crisis. Lighting designer Tyler Micoleau makes brilliant use of track lighting, chandeliers, and table lamps to enhance the realism and sense of peeking in on the lives of the characters.
Lily Thorne’s play successfully reveals the stark truths of facing the end of life, its stress, fears, and deeply embedded emotion. Peace for Mary Frances closed on June 17.