Terrence McNally has yet to make a false move in any show he’s brought to the stage. His four Tony Awards are evident of that.
His shows often have a gay twist or theme, perhaps with the exception of the book from “Ragtime.” He usually is ahead of the curve in bringing gay social issues to the forefront and his latest “Mothers and Sons” play is no exception.
“Mothers,” which just opened at New York’s Golden Theatre, stars Tyne Daly as a mother who years after her son passes from AIDS goes to his former lover/partner’s home to finally try to put closure (and blame?) to her loss.
The drama, although easily could have lapsed into melodrama in the wrong hands, keeps overly emotional scenes to a minimal, and instead allows the drama to breathe, quite literally causing more tension between characters and among the audience.
Daly’s character Mrs. Gerard can never really find the answer as to why her son died of AIDS but she ends up with more questions, including why his ex-lover was able to move on with his life by marrying another man and fathering a child. Mrs. Gerard cannot move on so she wonders why her son’s partner Cal seems to have been able to.
McNally’s writing continues to demonstrate why he’s at the top of his game. With “Mothers” McNally is able to remain current by including the recent passing of gay marriage as not only a plot point, but in some ways a conflict.
The cast of four work well together with Daly as the uptight, out-of-touch mother. She actually could have chewed up the scenery with her stern, homophonic character, but she keeps herself in line, which adds to tension in the show and a bit of sympathy to her character.
Frederick Weller as Cal also is well-understated, seemingly walking on eggshells trying to appease Daly while at the same time, wondering if there is anything he can do to satisfy her. In small looks and gestures and an occasional laugh, Weller is able to command his presence on the stage, not an easy task alongside Daly.
Halfway through the production, in walks Bobby Steggert as Cal’s husband and Grayson Taylor as their son. For a moment, their presence breaks some of the tension that has mounted between Mrs. Gerard and Cal, but soon Mrs. Gerard’s own uncomfortableness in her own skin and acid tongued comments brings the show back to a tense, emotional level.
Kudos should also go out to director Sheryl Kaller, who utilizes the entire well decorated set of John Lee Beatty. While the set is only one piece, it actually has a lot of depth and details and makes you truly feel you’re in a large apartment in New York. And, within McNally’s words, when the characters look out the window and describe what they see, we too can feel it.
In fact, the whole story is like looking into a window, offering a glimpse of people who use different ways to deal with grief, and those who have learned to move on, while others remain frozen in one period of time.
The story of “Mothers and Sons” is a glimpse into lives that can be like our own, serving as a reminder to be thankful for all of our blessings every day. One of mine is to be thankful for the work of Terrence McNally.
“Mothers and Sons” is playing at New York’s Golden Theatre. Get more information and tickets at www.mothersandsonsbroadway.com.