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Mothers and Sons
By Elyse Sommer
But Bud and his parents' world in which AIDS is no longer a death sentence and gay men can indeed marry and have children is still not free of once prevailing prejudices. As Will explains at one point, "The sight of two men hand in hand with a child waiting for the"light to change on Central Park West rattles an occasional cage. Gay dads still merit more than passing interest even in the metropolis known as "Manhattan."
Tyne Daly's Katherine Gerard, whose surprise visit to the Ogden-Porter Central Park West apartment (designed to look comfortable and enviably spacious but not too upscale by John Lee Beattie) prompts Ben's questions about his father's previous relationship with her son. She exemplifies homophobia at its most intense, odious and enduring. But Daly's Katherine is no villain.
As Katherine herself admits during the course of the impromptu visit intended to last just long enough to deliver an item she feels Cal should have, she seems prone to inappropriate utterances. But as Tyne Daly masterfully navigates this complex woman's barren emotional landscape — her reserve crumbling bit by painful bit and as her tension and hostility both deepen and lessen, we can't hate her. Instead we root for the love and happines in that comfortable apartment with its enviable view to rub off enough to unfreeze all her anger and bitterness and find a way to exist in less of an emotional void.
Katherine's anger is volcanic and broad. It's directed at Cal and the whole gay community who she feel killed him — and even the son who she feels abandoned her, though it's clear that it was Cal, not she, who was there for him during his painful and hopeless battle with AIDS.
Since Mr. McNally wrote the script for Daly, as he wrote Master Class for Zoe Caldwell, Daly is clearly Mothers and Sons' star. However, this is not a one star pony. Frederick Weller and Bobby Steggert provide fine support. However, their bliss with each other and their precocious son is so idealized that one can't help wondering if McNally is trying to say that gay men make better husbands and fathers than those who've long prevented them from proving it. Grayson Porter being allowed to overdo Bud's precocious curiosity underscores this, though his character IS necessary for the play to realize its ambition.
That ambition, entertainingly and movingly realized for the most part, is to dramatize what the homosexual life style has come to mean to four generations: The generation that includes those like Katherine who still can't understand or accept it. . .the survivors of the AIDS epidemic like Cal. . .the younger gay men like Will who take getting married and have children for granted . . .and children born into the more accepting modern world who see nothing unusual in having two dads.
McNally's teleplay Andre's Mother had the immediacy of a tragedy happening in real time. In this expanded update, Katherine's story is still a tragedy. If anything, her anger and bitterness is exacerbated by her being recently widowed, which left her more alone and unhappy than ever even though she didn't love her husband
It's easy to see the full length mink coat Katherine insists on keeping on even as her visit drags on as a metaphor of her inability to change with the times (fur coats have become as unfashionable as homophobic epithets, though neither have completely disappeared). Katherine's eventually agreeing to shedding the coat extends the metaphor, and optimists may view the bright red dress provided by costumer Jess Goldstein as a subtle hint of Katherine's becoming more open to life.
The darkness of Katherine's persona is softened and deepened through the counterpoint story of Cal. Like Katharine he was devastated by Andre's death but he did survive — first through a career that provided him with financial stability and, more importantly, by finding a new love with whom to take advantage of the freer Gay life.
Despite the tragic elements, Mothers and Sons is full of humor, the laugh aloud kind more generally associated with comedies. Mr. McNally has always been a literary chef who knows how to fill his dramas with pungent dialogue spiced with humor. In this case, he slyly gives the funniest zingers to the character who most needs them. And Daly is a master of landing wry laugh lines.
Sheryl Kaller, who received a Tony nomination for her previous direction of another gay play ( Next Fall ) smoothly steers the characters in and out of the living room to the merely glimpsed areas where the kitchen and bathroom are. While it's necessary to have transitions to send one of the dads off stage to set up opportunities for one on one scenes with Daly, all the talk and movement revolving around Bud's lengthy bath interrupts down the flow.
I'm probably quibbling too much. Broadway producers show no sign of changing their minds about focusing on musicals, and proven revivals. New, well acted straight plays with something to say are few and far between which makes Mothers and Sons a welcome addition to the Broadway scene.