Terrence McNally is a rare breed, for he is a star playwright in an age when that creature does not exist. His name can carry a play regardless of who might be acting in it, but his twentieth Broadway production also has Tyne Daly to star. She plays Katharine, the homophobic mother of a son who died of AIDS years ago and she has never really recovered from the blow. Her son’s boyfriend, Cal (Frederick Weller), has moved on, married a new boyfriend, Will (Bobby Steggert), and together are raising a small boy (Grayson Taylor). Cal does well in finance, while Will is a writer and stay at home dad. The pair have an ideal apartment on Central Park West. When Katharine makes a surprise visit to return her son’s diary to Cal, she is overwhelmed by the domestic, well-to-do household of the gay couple. The very environment she encounters challenges all of her perceptions of gay culture and opens up McNally’s platform to discuss the nature of love, relationships and the monumental transition in history between a time when AIDS simply killed to becoming a manageable disease. Along side that transition is the advancement in gay rights from a host of injustices to the reality of marriage equality. This play, in fact, marks the first gay characters on Broadway to be legally married.
As for the performances, Tyne Daly is supreme and makes a potential monster of a woman very sympathetic. The great satisfaction of the production is that she changes by the end of the play for the better. This occurrence happens just in the final moments in a coup de théâtre that I won’t reveal here, but it is the kind of theatrical flourish that Tennessee Williams or Arthur Miller might have devised in the old days of Broadway. The men of the production, on the other hand, have an actorly delivery that does not register as realistic as John Lee Beatty’s detailed set. The cadence of Weller’s delivery is particularly unnatural, but both Weller and Steggert are consistent and half way in they seem at one with the play and Ms. Daly.
Sheryl Kaller has directed the ninety minute play with an eye to finding plenty of variety on a set that is as restrictive as it is pretty. Jess Goldstein’s costumes are contemporary and so won’t receive much attention, but they are thoughtful in that they make the characters pop forward from the intricate setting. There isn’t much for Jeff Croiter to do with the lighting except to give general illumination, but he subtly lets the light through the fourth wall windows change as the sun goes down and the fantastic ending allows him a great theatrical flourish to match the moment.
Mothers and Sons is a timely play set squarely in the here and now, which will eventually make it a museum piece, but for now it is right out of the headlines and the current cultural discussion. What is refreshing about this “gay play” is that it is not about coming out—the most crucial and dramatic experience for a gay person. These gay characters are way beyond that, but they are still arguing for fairness and to be accepted as “normal.” One day, even that won’t be a current topic and the mere fact of being gay won’t be the dramatic drive of a story. Although his play is about the slow progress of civil rights, McNally shifts the emphasis to the heterosexual character’s journey from ignorance to enlightenment. Left to themselves, the gay characters and their young son are doing just fine.
For tickets and more information go to www.mothersandsonsbroadway.com.