By: Isa Goldberg
June 2, 2018: In the final days of life, Mary Frances, (Lois Smith), gets to watch her children vie for her love, and the family inheritance. Set in the home where she raised her three children, the staging (scenic design by Dane Laffrey) feels very slice of life, a literal – or as close to literal – reflection of a family home as one could find. Peering through the fourth wall, we observe their behaviors, so dysfunctional that it makes our own look “normal” by comparison.
To everyone’s discomfort, especially her own, Mary Frances takes a long time to die. In the world of modern medicine, such is fate. And Smith, such an endearing presence in films from East of Eden (1955) to last year’s Ladybird, feels completely natural in her discomfort, and her need for finality.
Sadly, the children, for all of their differences, are something of a one-note chorus. They’re out for themselves, and the biggest share of mom’s inheritance that they can grab. Consciously or not, mom enables them all by pitting one against the other.
Director Lila Neugebauer mines the emotional depth of these characters, and their relationships. Once again, J. Smith-Cameron (Alice) is a force of nature, her mere presence radiating a sense of truth, of being in the present. While Alice is manipulative, she is honest, and she’s a sibling, with whom we can easily identify.
As her crazy sister Fanny, Johanna Day plays a recovering addict who is also manipulative, in an unpredictable, and unsettling way. It’s the codependency between her mother and she, which fuels the family’s dysfunctionality. In addition, Paul Lazar as Eddie is a queer egg. Geeky looking, and self-observed, he’s a typically dissociated brother.
Fortunately, both Heather Burns, and Natalie Gold as Alice’s daughters, bring a bit of vitality to the situation. While the hospice workers, played by Mia Katigbak and Brian Miskell intervene, compassionately at times.
About the end of life, Lily Throne’s play is unsentimental. And death is relief.
Peace For Mary Frances ***
THE NEW GROUP AT THE PERSHING SQUARE SIGNATURE CENTER
The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre
480 West 42nd Street
New York, NY 10036
2 hours 35 minutes including intermission
May 8 – June 17, 2018
Tuesday at 7:30pm
Wednesday at 7:30pm
Thursday at 7:30pm
Friday at 7:30pm
Saturday at 2pm and 8pm
Sunday at 2pm
Photography: Monique Carboni