Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Mothers and Sons (Golden Theatre)

By Harry Forbes

Tyne Daly follows up her outstanding 2011 portrayal of Maria Callas in Terrence McNally’s “Master Class” revival with another stunningly crafted McNally performance. This time, she’s Katherine Gerard, the recently widowed mother of Andre who died of AIDS 20 years before. She has been living in Dallas, and has decided to make a surprise visit to her son’s surviving partner Cal (Frederick Weller).

It’s a sequel to McNally’s teleplay “Andre’s Mother” which starred Sada Thompson and Richard Thomas, and which covered the events just following the death of Andre. It aired to acclaim on PBS’s “American Playhouse” back in 1990.

After all this time, Katharine’s never come to terms with her son’s lifestyle or death, and she establishes that outlook immediately in the opening tableau, as she, still stubbornly wearing her heavy fur coat, stands stiffly beside Cal as they look out the window of his Central Park West apartment which he shares with his 15-years-younger husband Will (Bobby Steggert), an aspiring novelist, and their son Bud (Grayson Taylor). Her body language in that scene and indeed throughout the play speaks volumes, as they survey the section in Central Park where Andre’s memorial took place years before.

McNally’s play – which premiered at the Bucks County Playhouse last June -- is compelling throughout even though his ruminations on gay marriage, homophobia, the consequences of AIDS, and so on, sometimes seem a tad heavy-handed.

A revelation that Andre was not faithful to Cal, and in fact, placed Cal “at risk,” is an interesting one. Later, in fact, Cal blames the rise of AIDS on gay men not feeling they deserved the “dignity of marriage” and consequently not encouraged to be monogamous, an interesting theory, but a debatable one.

More than halfway through the play, Katharine’s continued rigidity strikes a false note, but then, if she were to be won over right from the start by the men and cute little Bud – who takes an immediate shine to her and wants her to be his grandmother – there would be no conflict.

All in all, this is one of the prolific playwright’s best, and represents a return to form after the fair to middling “Golden Age.”

Weller is wonderfully sardonic and mercurial as he works hard to loosen up the recalcitrant Katharine, and he spars beautifully with Daly throughout, while Steggert does his reliably accomplished best as the young man thrilled with his fatherhood, but leery of the memory of the beloved Andre coming between him and Cal, even though they’ve been together for 11 years, far longer than Cal had been with Andre.

Sheryl Kaller directs with the same sensitivity she brought to the gay-themed “Next Fall.”

John Lee Beatty’s sets, Jess Goldstein’s costumes, Jeff Croiter’s lighting, and Nevin Steinberg’s sound design are all exemplary.

(John Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th Street, or 212-239-6200)

Photo: Bobby Steggert, Frederick Weller, Grayson Taylor, and Tyne Daly (Photo by Joan_Marcus)
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