McNally’s ‘Mothers and Sons’ Wears Its Battle Scars With Dignity

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By Michael Stever

Video Featurette Filmed & Edited By Michael Stever

 

There’s a ‘cheshire-cat’ like way playwright Terrence McNally weaves around achingly painful subject matter, yet he still manages to keep you laughing when you least expect it.  Even as he etches his words into the heartbreak and loss from AIDS in the new play ‘Mothers And Sons,’ at New York City’s historic Golden Theatre, McNally brings together thespian dynamo Tyne Daly, Frederick Weller,  Bobby Steggert and Grayson Taylor.

Daly’s Katherine unexpectedly arrives at Cal’s (Weller) New York City apartment some years after the funeral of her son Andre, following his death from AIDS.

Awkwardness ensues when Katherine realizes her late son’s partner has not only moved on, but married a younger man, (Steggert) and had a child (Taylor).

This unearths a tidal wave of emotions, drama and, yes, laughs that could have easily gone awry in the wrong hands.  McNally’s genius is in fine form here and never strays too far into the arena of histrionics and scenery chewing. Where AIDS is concerned, this could be construed as a benefit or a drawback depending on where you fall in your own assessment of the controversy.

Director Sheryl Kaller has served McNally’s text with adept pacing, brisk, effective delivery and in conjunction with a no-intermission running time is a testament to how the ‘intermission’ could become a thing of the past.

Daly’s Katherine is a marvel to behold.  She’s equal parts well dressed, proud, relatively well spoken with liberal doses of angry, jealous, terrified at having recently become a widow, and even prone to occasional one liners proclaiming her revulsion at the Texas heat, and being called ‘Sugar.’  Daly is a thespian force to be reckoned with, and she does McNally’s work proud.

As Cal, Weller is solid and supremely likable wearing his character’s battle scars with empathy and humiity. His congenial, controlled temper in the face of Daly’s vitriolic ravings are both admirable and frustrating. Being a gentleman is never easy.  Steggert’s Will is equally effective as Cal’s ‘younger man.’  Alas, if only all men of younger generations were as eloquent expressing their concern for the inevitable irony as ‘AIDS Panic’ slowly sinks into oblivion, and out of public consciousness with every passing year.

This was at the heart of my conundrum with ‘Mother’s And Sons.’  As much as I enjoyed it, it left me with lingering questions. How soon until people completely forget the cold shoulder thrust upon an unsuspecting populace by the Religious Right, or an apathetic Ronald Reagan & Margaret Thatcher and their administrations in the early eighties?  Thirty years later the ‘elephant in the room’ is still mired with mystery, anger, and question marks that people like Daly’s Katherine want answers to.  Does she get them?  The answer is open to conjecture.

Instead of pontificating monologues, or pointed questions directed at the AIDS virus and how it miraculously wiped out nearly 36 million people with murderously efficient precision, McNally has chosen a more restrained story.  His anger is indeed palpable, however, and bless him for having the temperance and care to take such a volatile subject, and craft together a truly beautiful, well spoken piece of theatre.

On behalf of the millions who have suffered losses from AIDS, or have suffered the destruction of their relationships with their mothers and fathers, sisters or brothers, ‘Mothers And Sons’ is moving and at times heart breaking, but serves more as a love letter to forgiveness than battle cry for justice.

John Golden Theater, 252 West 45th Street, 212-239-6200, telecharge.com. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes.

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