By Sandi Durell
When it comes to money and families, watch out . . . there’s bound to be some bickering. But in the case of Mary Frances, a feisty old broad of 90 who is facing the unknown, it’s beyond the pale as Mary Frances (the incomparable Lois Smith) pits one child against another as she plays her cards to the max as to which of her daughters will take the reins as ultimate caregiver. This is Lily Thorne’s professional playwrighting debut, at the Pershing Square Signature Center, produced by The New Group. The problem here is there’s no peace in sight for Mary Frances as it takes her a long time to die!
This is one of the ultimate dysfunctional family plays around that stabs at some moments of humor. They’re a mean ole bunch; three children of Armenian heritage including Fanny (Johanna Day who was sensational in Sweat) and is immediately a center of attention once we know she’s a recovering heroin addict, now on methadone, been in jail, is subject to outbreaks of uncontrollable rage and at major odds with sister Alice, a part time astrologer and a passive-aggressive type, played by the impeccable J. Smith-Cameron, who is financially supported by her mother; and there’s brother Eddie (Paul Lazar), an ultimate schlemiel who wants no responsibility when it comes to anything other than showing up a couple of times a week to visit his mother. He’s a lawyer and takes care of her accounts except MF is sharp enough to see that he’s not doing a very good job. The sisters squabble and fight for top positioning when it comes to mommy and mommy seems to enjoy giving orders regarding who’s in the lead at the moment.
Alice has two kids, Rosie (Natalie Gold), with a young baby, and is the most stable of the bunch, and her sister Helen – played by Heather Burns, (a TV actor) who is teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown just being part of this family and can’t take much more as she nearly strangles her auntie Fanny.
Mary Frances has water on the lungs and is on oxygen. Finally, the decision is made to call in medical care and next we see MF bedridden in home hospice, tended by Bonnie (Mia Katrigbak) and the staff social worker Michael (Brian Miskell). MF just wants to be comfortable and so is given limitless amounts of morphine and opiates to dull the growing pain.
The apples here didn’t fall far from the tree as the entire family has learned the art of playing their individual and collective blame game for their own misbegotten behavior. And then mommy kicks out both her daughters and would rather pay $15K a month to an agency caregiver Clara (Melle Powers) than give Alice $2K as she firmly believes Alice should be caring for her without pay because she’s her Mother. Relationships continue to spiral down, out of control.
Directed by Lila Neugebauer, the playwright required a good editor, and needs to go back to the drawing board to rethink and clarify. The story should have made its points in a much shortened version rather than 2 hrs, 35 min. and so became tedious and repetitious, losing its edge.
Photos: Monique Carboni
Peace for Mary Frances – Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42 Street, NYC, thru June 17.