*published on 27 Mar 2014 in The EDGE
Terence McNally is one of the American playwrights who has chronicled the AIDS crisis from first whiff to full-blown plague, to the triple cocktail and now in his newest work “Mothers and Sons” he asks us to ponder the plight of those who remained and went on courageously to remake lives.
His newest work plays at the lovely jewel box John Golden Theater, where John Lee Beatty has installed an opulent Upper West Side apartment. Every New Yorker in the audience is ogling it, wondering how they might sneak in to live there during the day, vacate during the show, and return to luxuriate on the divan taking in the view of the park made manifest in the first scene.
In this opening salvo there is discomfort between Tyne Daly, who icily portrays the still grieving Catherine Gerard, mother of Andre, who passed away in the early years of the AIDS crisis and Andre’s former lover Cal Porter, the very adroit Fredrick Weller.
They address each other as Mrs. Gerard and Mr. Porter, even though Cal had been with Andre for eight years. The ice has not melted and to insure we note this, Catherine Gerard does not remove her enormous bear of a fur coat (costumes well done by Jess Goldstein) until nearly half way through the play, even when asked repeatedly to do so.
Catherine has arrived unannounced two decades after her son’s passing and it seems she wants to rant and rail and share her anger and disappointment with anyone who will give it an ear. At one point she tells Cal she could angrily deconstruct the horrors of a particular ottoman. She seems always cocked and ready to go off.
The dialogue at times skews to humor and the audience either titters or roars as the barbs and sadness give way to the kind of laughter we use to mask the real conversations and emotions roiling under the surface. In life we often wish for that outer layer of fur to protect us from both the fragility and fear we carry from decades of mourning the young.
Cal makes it clear that he waited to find love, all the time missing Andre. None of this is enough for Catherine, who wants revenge. She wants to know who gave this plague to her son and yet she seems to want no part of the logistics of the gay sexual rites in the early ’80s. Catherine is convinced that when she sent her son off to New York City he was not gay. This elicits uproarious laughter.
Finally Cal’s husband Will arrives with their super-sweet six-year-old son Bud (equally lovely Grayson Taylor) in tow. And there is some wonderful dialog discussing why being able to call someone “my husband” is such an enormous treat for Cal, who, at 15 years older than Will, never expected that he would get that right and privilege.
Bobby Steggert plays the boyish, ebullient and outspoken Will Ogden and we can see the difference in the two gay generations. Cal proffers that he never thought it would be possible for him to be a father, while Will never expected anything other than fatherhood. McNally effortlessly utilizes these simple facts to underscore the changes in a gay mindset, as he paints a picture of a changing world.
There are some great moments in this rather uneven play and
McNally reminds us in between the banter and bubble bath in the next room what is so crucial. “First it will be a chapter in a history book, then a paragraph, then a footnote… It’s already started to happen. I can feel it happening. All the raw edges of pain dulled, deadened, drained away.”
We need to remember that we lost an entire generation who might have been Einstein or Mozart, or the Top Chef, and that for those who remained there is a combination of guilt, a sense of as McNally says, “those who remain being punished enough.”
This newest work marks McNally’s 20th Broadway production. Many of his works have deconstructed the various stages of the AIDS crisis and he has done so consistently inserting humor where one would assume only a mordant sense of gloom could prevail.
“Mothers and Sons” adds to the “The Lisbon Traviata” (1989), “Lips Together, Teeth Apart” (1991) and “Love! Valour! Compassion!”(1995) to create an important tapestry weaving the ongoing saga of decades in the fight against AIDS and the prejudice that shadowed it.
“Mothers and Sons” enjoys an extended run at the John Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th Street. For information or tickets, call 888-847-4869 or visit http://www.mothersandsonsbroadway.com