One Flawless Mother and One Flawless Son

There is a moment in Mothers and Sons - after a series of laugh-out-loud hilarious and heartfelt moments, mind you - when I froze in my seat and, I’m pretty sure, I stopped breathing.

You see, Katharine, a hardened mother still reeling from losing Andre, her gay son, from AIDS twenty years earlier, has dropped in on Cal, Andre’s former partner, in his New York Apartment. The moment I’m referring to is after a series of introductions and catching up where, in gest, Katharine is upset and border-line offended that Cal’s new life with his legally-recognized husband Will (Fuck yes gay marriage!), and their son Bud, is quite exceptional. Katharine comes right out and says the, “OMG, She. Just. Said. That” line of the show, paraphrased as follows:

"Why is it my life got worse after Andre died and yours got better?"

As this moment plays out in Mothers and Sons, taking shop at the Golden Theater after playing at Bucks County Playhouse last spring, the overall quality reached a new tier. Because we, as an audience perhaps, but especially for me, were tolerating Katharine’s austere persona and homophobia out of an actress-specific love for Tyne Daly and her impeccable droll humor (which helps, but doesn’t exactly absolve Katharine’s actions). But Terrence McNally, obviously not one for disappointment, made her journey utterly heart-wrenching and I actually felt sorry for her. A combination of McNallys writing and Daly’s perfect delivery and I can’t stop thinking about this one stretch of theatrical awesomeness, even so many days after seeing the show and writing about it now.

McNally is working in his wheelhouse with Mothers and Sons, so the fact that he (mostly) succeeds with the writing here is par for the course. The material is beautifully paired with Sheryl Kaller’s direction, as they were able to craft character moments and extend the story with what was left unsaid in addition to the dialogue. With no intermission and only a few pauses of inactivity where one character is left on stage (usually Katharine), Mothers and Sons could have been one long haul to the finish line. But Kaller kept the pacing appropriate without compromising McNally’s story.

And Ms. Daly and Frederick Weller’s Cal make fantastic scene partners, so much so, I could have pulled up a pint of Ben and Jerry's and watched their reunion well into the next day. Actually, I don’t need a show as a reason to get some Ben and Jerry's, but still…these two were doing fine on their own, but every exchange of dialogue made them better.

The role of Katharine plays to all of Daly’s strengths. Look out for even her most minor ticks and glances; you won’t regret it. She is giving Stockard Channing story-face (a highly technical NRNW-ism where you look at her face and see/feel a full story), so much so, if I hadn’t already coined the term under Ms. Channing’s umbrella, I would call it Tyne Daly story-face. Whatever, she’s phenomenal and I could have told you that before I even took my seat. Bless her for not making me a liar.

But Frederick Weller blew me away in an effortless, yet effective way. Beneath every one of Cal’s soft and well-spoken words captures the portrait of a gay man still marred by the damages of the past (and the loss of his then partner), yet still optimistic for his family’s future. What made his performance capture my attention early on was the rather-monotone way he was projecting his dialogue. Think Daria Morgendorffer, but less indifferent and sullen. Weller fully-conveyed everything that is Cal without breeching this self-imposed vocal range of .6 octaves. How the show didn’t suffer from this ambition is beyond me. It really intrigued me and pulled my focus away from Katharine and her diva-tastic fur coat (which if you know me and my costume-loving self, that is no small triumph).

Unfortunately, taking house in the negative column is Bobby Steggert (damn it) and Grayson Taylor. In all fairness, McNally wrote their characters like they were fleeting ideas and not actual people, as their combined presence on stage amount to nothing. Oh sure, they play into the show in terms of furthering Katharine and Cal's relationship and their respective character developments, but that's a small contribution at best. As characters evaluated on their own merits, I wish that Steggert's Will and Taylor’s Bud remained at the park so Katharine and Cal can get back to enthralling the audience.

It's not that Steggert is miscast, but there wasn't a moment in all 90 minutes of Mothers and Sons that I wanted to thank Goddess McDonald for bringing him back on stage for the second time this (Broadway) year. A shame because (1) I love Bobby and (2) I truly wanted him back on stage and in a better show after Big Fish jettisoned to the Broadway junk heap. The sum total of his time on stage is him giving this...barely there, non-performance. Where's a revival of Yank! when you need one?

The less said about Taylor and his overly inquisitive, "I'm so sweet, I'll rot your teeth" Bud, the better. Not because I am fearing the wrath of people mothers cracking down on my dislike of a little tyke...nope, not that at all. But every time the character is trotted out, the invisible theatre puppeteers have a heavy-handed field day with our heart strings. It is possible for a child to be cute and tolerable, but Taylor's performance needs more Matilda, less Annie. And while he deserves credit for not setting the theater on fire or causing the demise of mankind (I've read stories that children are capable of such feats), I wanted to slip the kid a DVD of The Hunger Games Frozen and direct him elsewhere.

In fact, the more I think about it, Mothers and Sons would work as a two-person play and given how well-written Katharine and Cal are, Will and Bud look like a deliberate attempt to pad the character list.

But enough of that, back to loving the show. Which I did. I was regaled with many moments of laughter and McNally’s writing is always welcome on a stage near me. It unfolds so pleasantly despite the tumultuous reminiscing of the AIDS epidemic and the holdover tension naturally spurred on by this out-of-nowhere reunion. But Mothers and Sons has a lingering euphoria and leaves you wanting more…more McNally, more Katharine and Cal, more of that GORGEOUS set by John Lee Beatty (does he ever take a vacation?), just more…more of everything.

Sounds like a hit if you ask me.

Ticket Provided By the Production

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

No comments: