After Terrence McNally’s last two comic misfires?the theatrical homage And Away We Go and the opera ode Golden Age?it’s a pleasure to see the playwright return to form (and to Broadway) with his intimate portrait of a modern family, Mothers and Sons.
Granted, the premise is a bit contrived: Katharine (an absolutely superb Tyne Daly) pays a surprise visit to her deceased son?s ex-partner Cal (Frederick Weller) to deliver said son’s diary?thus enabling them to air grievances, fling accusations, and confront demons they couldn’t air/fling/confront 20 years ago at Andre’s memorial. Which happened to be in Central Park. Which you can see from the window of Cal’s Upper West Side apartment?where he now lives with his 15-years-younger husband, Will (Bobby Steggert, very appealing in his self-righteousness) and precocious 6-year-old son, Bud (Grayson Taylor), who’s as much of a plot device as he is a character. Predictably, they will burst in at a very awkward moment?not long after Cal informs his guest ”I didn’t kill Andre,” ”I didn’t give him AIDS,” and ”I didn’t make him gay.”
Such protestations can grow tiresome (particularly given Weller’s overly mannered delivery). But there’s no denying that they’re honest. And McNally isn’t afraid to show us unlikable characters. When they first appeared in his 1988 short play Andre’s Mother, Cal was caustic and accusatory; Katharine was quietly judgmental (she had no lines). In Mothers and Sons, they’re pretty much the same, but Katharine is talking?and, fair warning, what she’s saying will be offensive to liberal pro?gay marriage ears.
At age 75, four-time Tony winner McNally (Kiss of the Spider Woman, Love! Valour! Compassion, Master Class, Ragtime) knows how far we’ve come by putting two legally married men on a Broadway stage. But he also knows where we came from. A lot of people have a mother like Katharine: a scotch-drinking, fur-wearing, battle-ax of a woman who just lost her husband, lost her son 20 years ago, and lost herself somewhere in between. ”I’m confused, I’m frightened, I’m angry about everything,” she blurts to Cal. ”I could let that ottoman put me in a rage.” How easy it would be to vilify her! Or to send her on a journey of redemption. But Katharine, who never accepted Andre’s lifestyle ”choice,” is not much closer to accepting it 90 minutes later, when the squeaky-voiced Bud hands her a plate of Oreos and an ice-cold glass of milk. After all, no one achieves self-actualization in a single evening. B
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