Mary Beth Peil

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Mary Beth Peil
Mary Beth Peil 2011 (cropped).jpg
Peil at the 2011 Peabody Awards
Born (1940-06-25) June 25, 1940 (age 82)
EducationNorthwestern University
Years active1962–present
SpouseJerry Kirkbride (divorced 1993)

Mary Beth Peil (born June 25, 1940) is an American actress and soprano. She began her career as an opera singer in 1962 with the Goldovsky Opera Theater. In 1964 she won two major singing competitions, the Young Concert Artists International Auditions and the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions; the latter of which earned her a contract with the Metropolitan Opera National Company with whom she performed in two seasons of national tours as a leading soprano from 1965–1967. She continued to perform in operas through the 1970s, notably creating the role of Alma in the world premiere of Lee Hoiby's Summer and Smoke at the Minnesota Opera in 1971. She later recorded that role for American television in 1982. With that same opera company she transitioned into musical theatre, performing the title role of Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate in 1983. Later that year she joined the national tour of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I as Anna Leonowens opposite Yul Brynner, and continued with that production when it opened on Broadway on January 7, 1985. She was nominated for a Tony Award for her portrayal.

After her Broadway debut, Peil has remained a stage actress in musicals and plays. She is the recipient of an Obie Award and has been nominated for a Drama Desk Award, a Helen Hayes Award, and two Outer Critics Circle Awards. She received a second Tony nomination in 2017 for her portrayal of Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna in Anastasia. In 1992 she made her film debut in a small role in the movie Jersey Girl, and made her first appearance on television in 1994 on the program Law & Order. She is best known for her roles in the main casts of two television series: as Evelyn 'Grams' Ryan in Dawson's Creek (1998–2003) and Jackie Florrick in The Good Wife (2009–2016). Her notable film credits include portraying Jack Lemmon's love interest in The Odd Couple II (1999), and performances in The Stepford Wives (2004), Flags of Our Fathers (2006), Mirrors (2008), Maladies (2012), and Collateral Beauty (2016). In 2020 she was nominated for the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Performer in a Digital Drama Series for the role of Helen in After Forever.

In an Opera News interview in 2019, Peil stated, "Opera is big and scary. You constantly strive for perfection. I think I always had my fingers crossed every time I sang in opera. On Broadway, you do eight shows a week, and there is no such thing as perfection. Every night, you try to find something new and true, perfect or not. Film and television is an intimate medium. You are communicating to one viewer instead of thousands. It is more of a physical and mental adjustment. The emotions are the same."[1]

Early life[edit]

Peil (pronounced peel) was born in 1940 in Davenport, Iowa.[2] She trained as a soprano at Northwestern University under Lotte Lehmann, and gave her senior recital on April 9, 1962.[3] Other influential teachers in her development in the university's music department included Robert Gay, the director of the opera program, and Ewald Nolte, who taught courses in music theory and composition and conducted a university chorus in which Peil performed.[4] While a college student she was a member of the Gamma Phi Beta sorority.


Career as an opera and concert soprano: 1962–1982[edit]

In her senior year, Peil performed the role of Violetta in Giuseppe Verdi's La traviata in a student production directed by Gay at Northwestern; a performance which was attended by Boris Goldovsky.[4] This led to an invitation to audition for Goldovsky's opera company for an upcoming national tour of that opera. She was offered a contract, and moved to New York City in order to take that job.[4] She made her professional debut as Violetta in the Fall of 1962 with the Goldovsky Opera Theater.[4]

In 1964 Peil won two major singing contests, the Young Concert Artists International Auditions and the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions (MONCA), which significantly furthered her career as a classical soprano in concerts and opera. In March 1964 she won the MONCA which earned her a contract with the newly formed Metropolitan Opera National Company (MONC); a second touring company of the Metropolitan Opera.[5] Mezzo-soprano Risë Stevens was one of the co-directors of the MONC, and Stevens mentored her during the two seasons that she performed with the company.[1]

Peil made her opera debut with the MONC in September 1965 as Clorinda in Gioachino Rossini's La Cenerentola; going on to perform that role in 72 cities on a nine-month national tour with the MONC through May 1966.[6][1] She also performed the role of Micaëla in Georges Bizet's Carmen with the MONC that first season.[7] She toured nationally with the company again in its second season as Susanna in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro and Mimì in Giacomo Puccini's La bohème from September 1966 through May 1967; with periodic breaks during that period.[1][8][9]

In 1965 Peil was the featured soprano soloist in a concert honoring Risë Stevens with the California Chamber Symphony at The Beverly Hilton.[10] That same year she performed the role of Pamina in The Magic Flute with conductor Thomas Scherman and the Little Orchestra Society at Philharmonic Hall.[11] In 1966 she was the soprano soloist in performances of Christian Ignatius Latrobe's Dies Irae at the Early American Moravian Music Festival at Salem College.[12] In 1968 she made her much delayed New York recital debut at Weill Recital Hall of Carnegie Hall as part of her Young Concert Artists win from years earlier.[13] She also sang with the New York City Opera, making her debut with the company in the Spring of 1972.[14]

Peil performed as a chamber musician during the late 1960s and 1970s, often in conjunction with her then husband, the clarinetist Jerry Kirkbride. Both were members of the Divario Chamber Ensemble in 1969 and 1970.[15] In 1976 the two of them were guest artists with the Boehm Quintette in a concert organized by the New York Flute Club entitled "The Flute In American Music- A Concert commemorating the Bicentennial of the Independence of the United States" at Carnegie Hall.[16][17] On her own, she was the featured soprano soloist in a concert of Bach cantatas with the Hampshire Quartet at Alice Tully Hall in 1972.[18] In the mid 1970s she performed with the Musical Arts Studio chamber opera ensemble, including performances at the Library of Congress in 1973.[19] In 1977 she performed in a concert of Gerald Ginsburg's 'theatre lieder' at Alice Tully Hall.[20]

In 1971, Peil originated the role of Alma in the world premiere of Lee Hoiby's opera adaptation of Tennessee Williams's play Summer and Smoke, at the Minnesota Opera.[21] She performed it again with the Chicago Opera Theater when it was broadcast on television in 1982 (based on a 1980 performance).[22] She returned to the Minnesota Opera several more times. With that company she portrayed Leonora in the United States premiere of Carl Nielsen's Maskarade in 1972.[23]

Transition to stage actress: 1983–1991[edit]

Peil made a transition into musical theatre with the Minnesota Opera, performing the title role of Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate in 1983.[24] Of that experience Peil stated, "That was when the light bulb went on. Doing Kiss Me, Kate with my beloved John Reardon made me realize I was a singing actor, not an acting singer."[25]

She soon found herself on Broadway. In May 1983 she was cast in a national tour as the twelfth and final Anna Leonowens opposite Yul Brynner's monarch of Siam in a revival of The King and I. The production toured the United States, closing on Broadway shortly before Brynner's death in 1985. In an interview in The New York Times, she described how Brynner could barely walk from his dressing room to the stage, due to his radiation therapy to treat his cancer, but when it was time to go on he somehow managed; "gliding into the light, erect, with the body of a sleek jungle cat."[26] She was nominated for a 1985 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical.[27][28] She later returned to the role of Anna Leonowens for a revival of the musical at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut in 1990 with Stacy Keach as the King.[29]

In 1986 Peil starred in Michel Tremblay's play The Impromptu of Outremont at the Lincoln Theater on the campus of the University of Hartford.[30] She starred in the 1987 Off-Broadway musical Birds of Paradise.[31] In 1988 she portrayed Desiree Armfeldt in Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music with the Opera Ensemble of New York.[32] In 1989 she performed in William Shakespeare's Cymbeline at The Public Theater under the direction of JoAnne Akalaitis.[33] She portrayed President J.F.K.'s secretary, a central character in the musical, in Michael John LaChiusa's Over Texas with the Ensemble Studio Theatre in 1991.[34] That same year she starred in Ödön von Horváth's Tales from the Vienna Woods at the Actors Theater of Louisville.[35]

Career on screen and stage: 1992–2003[edit]

In 1993 Peil moved back to New York City after divorcing Jerry Kirkbride with whom she had raised two children, Gwyneth and Michael, in Leonia, New Jersey.[36] She had made her film debut earlier in 1992's Jersey Girl and her television debut on Law & Order in 1994. Her first larger role in film was in the 1995 independent drama film Comfortably Numb. She portrayed Felice, the love interest of Felix (played by Jack Lemmon), in the 1999 comedy film The Odd Couple II. She portrayed Nancy Reagan's mother, actress Edith Luckett, in the Showtime movie The Reagans (2003). Between 1998 and 2003, she was introduced to a wider audience through her role as Evelyn 'Grams' Ryan on the teen television drama Dawson's Creek. Alongside the four main young stars of that show, she was the only actress to appear as a credited regular throughout the show's six-season run, appearing in 74 of 128 episodes.

Peil continued in the theatre while branching out into television and film. In 1992 she portrayed the beggar woman in Sweeney Todd at the Paper Mill Playhouse with George Hearn as Sweeney and Judy Kaye as Mrs. Lovett.[37] That same year she appeared in the premiere of Romulus Linney's Democracy and Esther; an adaptation of Henry Adams's novels Democracy: An American Novel (1880) and Esther (1884) into a single play.[38] She starred in the premiere of another play by Linney in 1993; the role of the psychoanalyst in Spain.[39] In 1994 she starred in three one act plays by Edward Albee presented collectively under the tile "Sand" by the Signature Theatre Company: "Box" (1968), "The Sandbox" (1960), and "Finding the Sun" (1983).[40]

Peil won an Obie Award in 1995 for her work in three non-musical plays Off-Broadway: Paul Rudnick's The Naked Truth (as Nan, 1994 at the WPA Theater[41]),[42] A. R. Gurney's A Cheever Evening (as Peaches, 1994 with Playwrights Horizons [43]), and Craig Lucas's Missing Persons (1995, as Addie with the Atlantic Theater Company[44]).[28][45] She returned to the role of Nan in a revision of The Naked Truth, now retitled The Naked Eye, at Harvard University's American Repertory Theater in 1996.[46] In 1996 and 1997, she toured in Gurney's play, Sylvia with Charles Kimbrough and Stephanie Zimbalist. In 1997 she appeared in the celebrated revival of George S. Kaufman and Ring Lardner's June Moon at the Ohio Theater in SoHo.[47] That same year she portrayed Hesione in Pierre de Marivaux's The Triumph of Love at the Yale Repertory Theatre (YRT).[48]

Peil played evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson and First Lady Lou Henry Hoover in a 1998 off-Broadway revival of the Irving BerlinMoss Hart revue As Thousands Cheer at the Greenwich House Theater.[49] In May 1999, Peil portrayed Judith in the YRT's production of the Noël Coward play Hay Fever.[50] She played the beggar woman in Sweeney Todd at the Kennedy Center in 2002 and in the spring of 2003 she played the mother of Antonio Banderas's character in a Broadway revival of the musical Nine.[51][52] In the winter of 2003, she again appeared off-Broadway, starring in Frame 312, Keith Reddin's play about the Kennedy assassination.[53]

Recent career: 2004–present[edit]

After Dawson's Creek ended in 2003, Peil portrayed Helen Devlin in Frank Oz's 2004 film The Stepford Wives with Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick, and Bette Midler. Her other recent film credits include Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers (2006), the thriller Mirrors (2008), Maladies (2012), Contest (2013), Collateral Beauty (2016), The Song of Sway Lake (2018), and Here and Now (2018). From 2009 to 2016, she played Jackie Florrick, the mother of Chris Noth's character Peter Florrick, on the CBS drama The Good Wife.[54] In 2019 she portrayed the recurring role of Gwendolina Ferrari on NBC's The Village and in 2020 she portrayed the recurring role of Loretta Lacy on The CW's Katy Keene. In 2021 she appeared in the role of Martha Graham in the Netflix series Halston.[55]

On the stage, Peil portrayed Eleanor Roosevelt in the 2004 Off-Broadway revival of Michael John LaChiusa First Lady Suite at The Connelly Theater.[56] That same year she portrayed Juliana Tesman in Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler with the New York Theatre Workshop under the direction of Ivo van Hove;[57] and performed the role of Mrs. Mallard in Jeffrey Hatcher and Bill Russell's musical Lucky Duck at the Old Globe Theatre.[58] In 2005 she performed the role of Rose in Harold Pinter's The Room with the Atlantic Theater Company (ATC).[59] In 2006 she created the role of Clare in the world premiere of Joan Vail Thorne's The Things You Least Expect at the George Street Playhouse.[60] That same year she starred as Celeste Albaret in the world premiere of Mary Zimmerman's monodrama M. Proust with the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago.[61] In 2007 she performed the role of Ann in Gurney's The Cocktail Hour at the Long Wharf Theatre.[62]

In 2008 Peil appeared as the Old Lady and Blair Daniels in the Roundabout Theatre Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim's musical Sunday in the Park with George.[63] Starting in October 2010 she appeared in the original Broadway cast of the Lincoln Center Theater production of the musical Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, which is based upon the movie of the same name.[64] The show had a limited run until January 2011. Peil appeared in Stephen Sondheim's Follies on Broadway in the role of Solange LaFitte, alongside Bernadette Peters and Elaine Paige, starting in August 2011.[65][66] In March 2012, she appeared as Erica Morini in Willy Holtzman's off-Broadway play The Morini Strad about the concert violinist.[67] Later that year she performed the role of Alison Woollley in the New York premiere of Simon Stephens's Harper Regan with the ATC.[68]

In 2013 Peil starred alongside Jeff Goldblum and Laurie Metcalf in the world premiere of Bruce Norris's Domesticated at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center.[69] In 2014 she portrayed Celia Peachum in Bertolt Brecht's The Threepenny Opera with the ATC.[70] In 2015 she appeared as Serafima in Moira Buffini's Dying for It, an adaptation of Nikolai Erdman's The Suicide, with the ATC.[71] She returned to Broadway as Matilde Schell in the 2015 revival of Kander and Ebb's The Visit starring Chita Rivera;[72] and as Madame de Rosemonde in the 2016 revival of Christopher Hampton's Les Liaisons Dangereuses.[36]

Peil next joined the cast of the musical Anastasia playing the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, the grandmother of the Grand Duchess Anastasia. Based on the 1997 animated film, Anastasia has music and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty and a book by Terrence McNally. The musical began as a workshop in 2015, it then had out of town tryouts in Hartford, CT in 2016 before eventually opening on Broadway in 2017. Peil was nominated for a Tony Award,[73] a Drama Desk Award[74] and an Outer Critics Circle Award[75] for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her role. In 2019 she portrayed Mama Mizner in the Encores! revival of Stephen Sondheim's Road Show.[76]



Year Title Role Notes
1992 Jersey Girl Day Care Center Teacher
1995 Reckless Bartender
1995 Comfortably Numb Emily Best
1998 Number One Lana Short film
1999 The Odd Couple II Felice
1999 Advice from a Caterpillar Homeless Woman
2004 The Stepford Wives Helen Devlin
2006 Shortbus Ann
2006 The Caretakers Olivia Short film
2006 Flags of Our Fathers Mrs. Bradley
2007 The List Daisy Stokes
2008 Old Days Lillian Short film
2008 Mirrors Anna Esseker
2010 The Locksmith Celine
2011 Small, Beautifully Moving Parts Marjorie Sparks
2012 Maladies Blind Woman
2013 Contest "Gran" Angela Maria Tucci
2016 Collateral Beauty Mrs. Yardsham
2017 The Song of Sway Lake Charlie Sway
2018 Here and Now Dr. Marianne Holt


Year Title Role Notes
1994 Law & Order Dr. Emma Hiltz Episode: "Family Values"
1998–2003 Dawson's Creek Evelyn "Grams" Ryan 66 episodes
2001 The Job Mrs. Peg Bermance Episode: "Massage"
2003 The Reagans Edith Davis Television movie
2005 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Deb Boyd Episode: "Alien"
2009–2016 The Good Wife Jackie Florrick 49 episodes
2009 Fringe Jessica Warren Episode: "The No-Brainer"
2011 American Masters Mrs. Carr (voice) Episode: "John Muir in the New World"
2012 Submissions Only Beverly Wilcox Episode: "The Growing Interconnectedness"
2019 The Village Gwendolina Ferrari 5 episodes
2020 Katy Keene Loretta Lacy 4 episodes
2021 Halston Martha Graham Episode: "Critics"


Year Play Role Theatre
1985 The King and I Anna Leonowens Broadway Theatre, Broadway
1987 Birds of Paradise Marjorie Promenade Theatre, Off-Broadway
1988 The Sound of Music Elsa Schraeder Regional Tour
1989 Cymbeline Ghost Mother The Public Theater, Off-Broadway
1991 Four Short Operas Mary/Woman/Woman/Madge Playwrights Horizons, Off-Broadway
1992 Sweeney Todd Beggar Woman Paper Mill Playhouse, Regional
1993 Assassins Sara Jane Moore San Jose Civic, Regional
1994 Box, The Sandbox, and Finding the Sun Edmee Signature Theatre Company, Off-Broadway
1994 The Naked Truth Nan Bemiss WPA Theatre, Off-Broadway
1994–1995 A Cheever Evening Performer Playwrights Horizons, Off-Broadway
1995 Missing Persons Addie Atlantic Theater Company, Off-Broadway
1995 Sylvia Kate (Replacement) New York City Center Stage I, Off-Broadway
1998–1999 As Thousands Cheer Performer Greenwich House, Off-Off-Broadway
2002 Sweeney Todd Beggar Woman The Kennedy Center, Regional
2003 Nine Guido's Mother Eugene O'Neill Theatre, Broadway
2003–2004 Frame 312 Lynette (1990's) Atlantic Theater Company, Off-Broadway
2004 First Lady Suite Eleanor Roosevelt Connelly Theatre, Off-Off-Broadway
2004 Lucky Duck Various Old Globe Theatre, Regional
2004 Hedda Gabler Aunt Julia New York Theatre Workshop, Off-Broadway
2005–2006 Celebration and The Room Rose Atlantic Theater Company, Off-Broadway
2007 33 Variations Katherine Brandt Arena Stage, Regional
2008 Sunday in the Park with George Old Lady/Blair Daniels Studio 54, Broadway
2010–2011 Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown Pepa's Concierge Belasco Theatre, Broadway
2011–2012 Follies Solange LaFitte Marquis Theatre, Broadway
2012 The Morini Strad Erica 59E59 Theaters, Off-Broadway
2012 Follies Solange LaFitte Ahmanson Theatre, Regional
2012 Harper Regan Allison Wooley Atlantic Theater Company, Off-Broadway
2013–2014 Domesticated Shrink Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, Off-Broadway
2014 The Threepenny Opera Mrs. Peachum Atlantic Theater Company, Off-Broadway
2015 Dying For It Serafima Ilyinichna Atlantic Theater Company, Off-Broadway
2015 The Visit Matilde Schell Lyceum Theatre, Broadway
2016–2017 Les Liaisons Dangereuses Madame de Rosemonde Booth Theatre, Broadway
2017–2018 Anastasia Dowager Empress Broadhurst Theatre, Broadway
2019 Macbeth Duncan/Old Woman Classic Stage Company, Off-Broadway
2019 Road Show Mama Mizner New York City Center, Encores!


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External links[edit]