New York City Theater
"Mothers and Sons"
Andre is dead, no mistake about that. But how and why? A generation has passed and his mother, Katharine, is still puzzled about not only his death but his life. While social change has accelerated, she remains so stuck and unrepentant that she decides to visit both the location and the people with whom Andre existed without her.
So goes “Mothers and Sons,” Terrence McNally’s summarizing sequel to his 1988 “Andre’s Mother,” which took place in and around Katharine’s son’s memorial at the height of the AIDS crisis. Quietly absorbing but more a dutiful catalogue of events than a fully fleshed-out drama, “Mothers” may be used someday in a compendium about the history of the gay movement in America.
As such, McNally’s done us a favor. Amid much explaining of the years between rejection and acceptance, he personalizes gay life in the relationship between Cal, Andre’s former partner, and Will, his present husband. The gap between “partner” and “husband” contains multitudes.
Cal and Will have a six-year-old son, Bud, a product of Will’s sperm and a lesbian friend who carried Bud to term. Wise and knowing, guileless and assertive, Bud is catalyst between then and now, uniting generations.
And that’s about all the theatrical drama there is in a work bent on giving audiences a primer on the rise of the gay rights movement. To get his points across, McNally makes Katharine a bit obtuse (“Andre wasn’t gay when he came to New York”). Although born in Westchester, she seemingly doesn’t know the difference between the east and west sides of Manhattan. (She’s lived in Dallas for years.)
In fact, she has to have so much explained to her, we eventually feel as if we’re in the middle of a seminar for out-of-towners. Luckily, McNally has a funny bone, saving the evening from being blame-game solemn. Under Sheryl Kaller’s balanced direction, the play becomes sincerely emotional towards the end, once the focus is on the future.
Tyne Daly peppers Katharine’s prickly bitterness with glancing humor, her naïveté with touching insight into a lonely life. She gives the character depth and complexity, both sorely lacking in the two-dimensional mouthpieces, Cal and Will, even though they’re played by excellent actors, Frederick Weller and Bobby Steggert. As Bud, Grayson Taylor is assured, though not always intelligible.
Whatever its drawbacks, the play demands attention. Still, now that it’s out of McNally’s system, it’s time for him -- and us -- to move on.
--David A. Rosenberg
April 4, 2014