Mary Beth Peil (born June 25, 1930) is an American opera singer and actress best known as Evelyn Ryan on the television series Dawson's Creek.
Born in Davenport, Iowa, USA Mary Beth Peil--her surname is pronounced PALE--trained as an opera singer at Northwestern University under Lotte Lehmann. In the 1960s, the soprano toured with Boris Goldovsky's opera company and the Metropolitan Opera's national company singing such roles as Susannah in Mozart and da Ponte's The Marriage of Figaro. She also sang with the New York City Opera. In 1971, she originated the role of Alma in the opera Summer and Smoke, based on a Tennessee Williams play, and performed it again when it was broadcast on television.
She was persuaded to take a part in Kiss Me, Kate and to her surprise found she loved doing musical theatre. She soon found herself on Broadway. In May 1983 she was cast as the twelfth Anna Leonowens to Yul Brynner's King of Siam in the revival of The King and I. Some critics said she was better than Gertrude Lawrence, who originated the role, and was nominated in 1985 for a Tony for best featured actress in a musical.
She won an Obie award in 1995 for her work in three plays: The Naked Truth, Missing Persons, and A Cheever Evening. In 1996 and 1997, she toured in A.R. Gurney's Sylvia with Charles Kimbrough and Stephanie Zimbalist. She played evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson in a revival of Irving Berlin and Moss Hart's As Thousand Cheer, offering what critics called a "sizzling" rendition of the song "Heat Wave".
In May 1999, she appeared in the Yale Repertory Theatre's production of the Noel Coward play Hay Fever. She played the beggar woman in Sweeney Todd at the Kennedy Center in 2002 and in the spring of 2003 she played Antonio Banderas's mother in the musical Nine. In the winter of 2003, she again appeared on the New York stage, starring in Keith Reddin's play about the Kennedy assassination, Frame 312.
Her work has largely been confined to the stage. She made her film debut in her 60s in 1992's Jersey Girl. She was 64 by her first television appearance, guesting on Law & Order in 1994. Dawson's Creek, which ran from 1998 to 2003, was her first series. Peil also played Edith Davis, Nancy Reagan's mother, in the Showtime movie The Reagans.
She vows she will never retire. "When I'm 85 I fully intend to be the little old lady in the wheelchair in A Little Night Music!", she says.