"Mothers and Sons"
Music Theatre of Connecticut, Westport
There is no theater in Connecticut which equals the Music Theatre of Connecticut in terms of its intimate, comforting milieu. This fifty-seat venue, burrowed away beneath Colonial Green in Westport, encourages a rapport between actors on stage and viewers in the audience that few can match. Invariably, this pays off for the MTC productions, giving their audiences a very personal reaction to the pain, poignancy, excitement, and longing expressed on stage.
So it is with “Mothers and Sons,” which is now enjoying its premiere after eight years in development. Kevin Connors, MTC’s artistic director, has written the music and lyrics for the show and co-written the book with Joe Landry.
This new musical is concerned with a specific type of mother/son relationship—namely, that of mothers and gay sons. Two pairs are set up in juxtaposition. In one relationship the mother is thoroughly supportive and delighted with her son’s planned marriage. The other mother, a talk radio personality, is concerned mainly with her own mounting success and visibility. Accidentally discovering her son’s sexual orientation, she hopes to keep it hidden, for fear it will jeopardize her career.
These and other issues are spelled out in a carefully-crafted tale, which begins in some confusion but grows stronger as the story develops. Some may view these struggles as dated, at least in a sophisticated Connecticut town (known here as Fairlawn, but probably a substitute for Westport). The fact is that the gay rights battle continues in many quarters, perhaps the last civil rights frontier in this country. The issues, indeed, have a basis in reality.
In any event, “Mothers and Sons” concerns a boy “coming out” in high school, while his favorite teacher struggles to do the same. Other issues involve a mother who is wooed by a right-wing organization, another mother struggling with cancer, and so on. The show is busy with subplots, which take time for the viewer to process. But ultimately, “Mothers and Sons” come through with touching dilemmas, often reflected in Connors’ melodic songs.
Carolyn Marcell, Tom Stuart, and Larry Daggett are all capable players, but the first high moment comes when Michael Lowney (who plays Mark, the high school boy) sings “Have You Ever Loved?”—a heart-warming performance which expresses the boy’s fear, uncertainty, and sense of isolation. Rob Sutton (as the high school teacher Danny) adds the next musical highlight when he recalls his childhood in the lovely piece “Kitchen Table.” And Susan Terry, in the key role as Sarah, the radio personality, gets her moment in the sun, with “I’ll Always Be There.” Terry, who has a voice which could command a Broadway musical, is finally permitted to let the powerful notes soar out over the audience. When she combines this with a strong plea for gay rights, the show ends on a strong note.
-- Irene Backalenick
Jan. 26, 2009