Mothers and Sons***** (John Golden Theatre, New York)

Posted: May 7, 2014 in Theatre

photo-60This review was originally written for The Public Reviews:

In a career spanning half a century, this is Terence McNally’s 20th play to be staged on Broadway and, having already secured a Tony Awards nomination for Best Play, it could be amongst his finest. Amidst the bright lights and deafening noise of the Great White Way, it comes as a surprise to find something as small and gentle as Mothers and Sons, a subdued conversation piece involving three adults and a child. Yet its location emphasises McNally’s precise point – that, in a world in which everything moves so fast, changing in ways that we can never expect and maybe not understand, we need occasionally to stop to take stock quietly and learn to cherish our links with past times as we move towards a better future. Katherine (Tyne Daly) drops in unexpectedly at the New York apartment of Cal (Frederick Weller), who had been the lover of her late son Andre. They had neither met nor spoken in the 20 years since Andre’s death from AIDS and Cal regards her as a coldhearted gorgon. He is now married to Will (Bobby Steggert) and they have a six-year-old son, Bud. Katherine is in her 60’s, Cal in his 40’s and Will is 15 years younger than him. The views of the four generations represented here vary widely, each of the individuals having been deposited in a different place by the shifting sands of time, carrying their own baggage and looking at life from their own perspectives. Katherine can neither use the internet nor comprehend the nature of a two-father family. Cal had never imagined that he could marry or have children, whilst Will had never imagined that he would not do both. The two men may occasionally use politically incorrect terms such as “Indian” or “Eskimo” and then instantly correct themselves, but Bud is not even allowed to hear the words. Daly’s portrayal of Katherine is haunting, her large round eyes often staring in bewilderment as she struggles to understand the younger generations, but is unable to shake off her own background and prejudices. The loss of Andre and changes in society have made her question her own role in life and led to her wondering whether there is any point in continuing. She is desperate to reach out to this family and keep alive her own connections with Andre, but she has absolutely no idea how to do so. Weller’s Cal is kindly and forgiving towards Katherine, yet he is also confused by changes that he has seen and disbelieving of his fortune to belong to a blessed generation for a gay man. He proudly gloats over being able to call Will “husband”, insisting that it is the only correct word. Steggert’s Will is certain that the modern way is the only way, but he is suspicious of a woman who cannot bring herself to shake his hand when offered and wary of the long shadow cast by Andre. These are three magnificent performances and Grayson Taylor’s brief appearances as the precocious Bud are very affecting too. Running for little more than 100 minutes with no interval, Mothers and Sons is a sharply intelligent exploration of the human condition, filled with tender emotions and astute observations. A small but sparkling gem.

Performance date: 3 May 2014

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