Theater review by Adam Feldman
I never imagined I would spend a whole night hoping Lois Smith would die, but such is the unexpected effect of Peace for Mary Frances. Smith, of course, is not to blame: At 87, the great stage actor is in peak form, and gives a detailed, convincing performance as the mortally ill matriarch of a fractious Connecticut family. But although Mary Frances has chosen to accept her impending death, and to ease it with morphine and hospice care, she doesn’t go quickly, and neither does Lily Thorne’s play. As she lingers on her deathbed, her daughters—the furious Fanny (Johanna Day) and the frazzled Alice (J. Smith-Cameron)—face off in territorial skirmishes, while their brother (an amusingly icky Paul Lazar) sits idly by and Alice’s adult daughters squirm.
The situation is rife with potential tension, but first-time playwright Thorne and director Lila Neugebauer can’t seem to locate it. Dramatic events arise and disappear willy-nilly; three ancillary characters speak almost exclusively in exposition about terminal care. Peace for Mary Frances is keenly observant about the souring impact of money, which Mary Frances has lots of but doles out stingily to her struggling children. But most of the play (at least half) seems like dull, episodic flab. Death be not proud, but death—please—also be not boring.
The New Group (Off Broadway). By Lily Thorne. Directed by Lila Neugebauer. With Lois Smith, J. Smith-Cameron, Johanna Day. Running time: 2hrs 40mins. One intermission.