Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Mothers and Sons on Broadway

When Terrence McNally writes a script, this fellow Texan listens. I've seen numerous shows of his (he is celebrating his 50th anniversary on Broadway), I've produced and directed productions of his works, and I cling to his words like few other playwrights. He can hit me in the gut with a simple sentence that makes a lightbulb go over my head with a 'why haven't I seen it like that before?' type of feeling. And he says things we feel - especially many in the gay community. What do you call your significant other? Boyfriend seems so trite and husband is hard to say - I know it was for me when I said my wedding vows because I never thought I'd say those words.

With his latest play Mothers and Sons, McNally has returned to a familiar territory in which he has traveled before. In 1990, he won an Emmy award for Andre's Mother - a PBS series that first introduced the characters from this play. Then, we were at the memorial service for Andre. The latest work is set in the present when Andre's mother Katherine visits New York from Dallas and goes to the upper west side apartment of Andre's former lover, Cal. The two have not spoken in twenty years since Andre passed away and the audience can feel the tension, though we are given plenty of laughs to counter our tears in this 90 minute drama.

I was so lucky to have witnessed Tyne Daly's Mama Rose in Gypsy on Broadway and once again, she gives a powerful performance as the mother waiting for 'her turn', her identity. She says things that are not PC and while maintaining Katherine's outer wall, the fragility of this recently widowed woman is always right underneath. It is in the hand's of a master like Daly that such a performance can shine through and one can't help but love Katherine through all her flaws and faults. 

I have never seen Frederick Weller, but that is my loss. What a nuanced performance he gives as the former lover dealing with an unexpected visit. He volleys with Daly and gives it right back to her matching her move for move. We witness two lives in one character: the former Cal that spent six years with his boyfriend before losing him to AIDS and then the older man that has finally been able to legally marry and raise a son. But the struggle of the past and present are always there in the beautiful living room designed by John Lee Beatty. Bobby Steggert (who I love in everything), plays the husband in a wonderful balancing act of respect for the elderly and the dead while still holding his own as a father going about a nightly routine in his home. Grayson Taylor rounds out the cast as an adorable little boy with very poignant moments in this production directly beautifully by Sheryl Kaller.

The play affected me in many ways. Like the character we never see, I too left Texas at 18 years old to move to New York to be an actor. I had my coming out moments with my own mother during that time, but unlike Katherine, my mother has accepted all aspects of my life and loves my husband as her own son. But more than anything, it is the period of which they speak in the early 90s. A time we were losing so many to the horrible disease. A time I was going to memorial services and watching friends die. I was only in my early 20s at the time, but the impact of that period was overwhelming. When the character of Will says he can see generations forgetting it all now, once again Mr. McNally punched me in the gut.

Do yourself a huge favor if you're in New York and get to the Golden Theatre to see this magnificent production. Then if you're as lucky as I am to still have your mother around, go home and give her a call.