Off-Broadway Review: “Peace for Mary Frances” the New Group at Pershing Square

Joseph Verlezza

  • New York Theatre Critic

There are many victims in the new family drama penned by Lily Thorne, but perhaps the audience is the most unfortunate casualty, having to suffer through this slow, protracted, insipid production for over two-and-a-half hours and wishing that “Peace for Mary Frances” would have come much sooner. The structure of the play is problematic: the series of short scenes ranging from about ten minutes to a mere two minutes, affects a coherent timeline and, most importantly, does not allow the audience to become emotionally involved with the action or the characters.

Each scene is followed by instrumental music by Daniel Kluger designed to enable the actors to move around the stage, move props, and position themselves for the next scene. Although the movement is very well choreographed by director Lila Neugebauer, it slows the pace to a crawl and is void of any temperamental content or evidence to move the plot forward.

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The story revolves around ninety-year-old Mary Frances, a crusty maternal figure, who is ready to die peacefully, but for some bizarre reason surrounds herself with her angry, dimwitted, selfish children to oversee the proceedings. It is far from tranquil and more like a frenzied, histrionic reunion of neurotic losers. This family is beyond dysfunctional and borders on unhinged and psychotic, which in most dramatic circumstances would be compelling, but in this case exudes boredom and apathy. The script is too contrived and contains many contradictions that undermine characters credibility and creates unconvincing situations. Drug abuse, racism, religion, immigration, sibling rivalry, divorce, co-dependence and control are just a few of the issues that are touched upon but never fully developed.

The competent cast including such distinguished veteran actors as Johanna Day, J. Smith-Cameron, and Lois Smith attempt to dig deep into their characters, but it seems impossible to bring any depth to the shallow script. The two-level set by designer Dane Laffrey appears claustrophobic given the small stage and contributes to the lengthy pause in action between scenes and does not afford the greatest sight lines for audience viewing. There is no dramatic arc, just continuous conflict, with no climax and no resolution, leaving the audience waiting, and waiting far too long, for death to come a knocking at Mary Frances’ door.



“Peace for Mary Frances” features Heather Burns (Helen), Johanna Day (Franny), Natalie Gold (Rosie), Mia Katigbak (Bonnie), Paul Lazar (Eddie), Brian Miskell (Michael), Melle Powers (Clara), Lois Smith (Mary Frances) and J. Smith-Cameron (Alice).  This production includes Scenic Design by Dane Laffrey, Costume Design by Jessica Pabst, Lighting Design by Tyler Micoleau and Music and Sound Design by Daniel Kluger.  Casting by Judy Henderson, CSA.  Production Stage Manager is Valerie A. Peterson. Production photos by

“Peace for Mary Frances” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday June 17, 2018 at The Pershing Square Signature Center (The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre, 480 West 42nd Street). For further information, including cast and creative, performance schedule, and to purchase tickets, please visit Running Time is 2 hours and 5 minutes including one intermission.

Photo:  Lois Smith, J. Smith-Cameron, Paul Lazar in Lily Thorne’s “Peace for Mary Frances.” Credit: Monique Carboni.