In Terrence McNally’s often funny, always thoughtful new play Mothers and Sons, mother Katherine (Tyne Daly) pays an unexpected visit to the New York apartment of her late son’s ex-partner Cal (Frederick Weller), who is now married to another man, Will (Bobby Steggart) and has a young son. She has something of her son’s to give Cal, but things get more complicated the longer she stays.
This is one of those plays where the characters are all well-educated and well-spoken, and the terrific ensemble – rounded out by Grayson Taylor as the couple’s son Bud – deliver what could easily come across as stiff with great nuance and fluidity. Daly above all is impressive as the highly complicated Katherine, who seems to aspire to misanthropy, but is just too decent at the core to truly hate people that much.
As many McNally plays are, this is a think piece. There are many thing about gay life in general, and her late son Andre in particular, that Katherine will never get (perhaps she’s willfully trying not to). Cal tries to get through to her what life with Andre was like, both the good and the bad (when Andre was dying with AIDS). AIDS does hover over this play, but I wouldn’t call it a full-on AIDS play, compared to, say, The Normal Heart.
All this makes Mothers and Sons sound much heavier than it actually is – McNally writes with an extraordinarily light touch, and all the characters are witty, which makes for a great deal of humor. And, in spite of its darker insights and emotional moments, the play is essentially quite sentimental as it imagines new configurations of family. This is a really good, smart gay-themed play. Recommended.
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