note: entire contents copyright 2015 by Susan Daniels
Terrence McNally’s “Mothers & Sons,” the first Broadway play to feature a married gay male couple, may be the most outstanding production in Boston during this theater season. A Tony nominee for Best Play in 2014, it captures the heart and heartbreak of four individuals touched -- directly or secondhand --by the AIDS-related death two decades earlier of a “29-year-old perfectly healthy, beautiful, young man who developed a pesky, summer cough.” The play, running at SpeakEasy Stage Company through June 6, speaks volumes about family, even when there is no dialogue.
Katharine (Nancy E. Carroll), the mother of the title, has dropped in on Cal (Michael Kaye), her deceased son’s lover, before heading to Europe and after the recent death of her husband. Ostensibly, the unannounced visit from her hometown of Dallas is to return the unopened journal of her son, Andre, but emotional baggage roils under the surface. The two have not spoken since Andre’s memorial service 20 years ago, and the coldness between Katharine and Cal is touched upon symbolically by the full-length, fur coat worn by her during the first ten minutes of the play. In a manner of ‘speaking,’ she uses the coat like an armor to keep from engaging with Cal as he prattles and points to landmarks seen outside his tastefully decorated home overlooking New York City’s Central Park. Like a lioness eyeing her prey, Katharine remains silent and stock-still, her back to the audience, during this portion of the play. Caught off guard by Katharine’s appearance, Cal’s 15-years-younger husband, Will (Nile Hawver), and their six-year-old son, Bud (Liam Lurker), return, somewhat disheveled, from a winter romp in the park, adding multiple turns of dramatic tension and endearing amusement throughout this roller coaster ride of emotions -- some explosive . . . others, buttoned-up.
Though not necessarily seeking closure, a term the brittle, homophobic Katharine despises, as a result of this afternoon visit she is forced to confront what may have become of Andre’s life, had he lived. Likewise, the different choices she might have made in her own, personal life.
Guided by Producing Artistic Director and 2008 Norton Award winner Paul Daigneault, “Mothers & Sons” achieves a heart-felt and honest portrayal of four generations coping -- knowingly or unwittingly -- with the ravages and aftermath of the AIDS epidemic. Under his informed direction, the cast, particularly triple Elliot Norton Award winner Carroll’s haunting portrayal of the loss of her only child and her ensuing bitterness, creates compelling characters, shaded with meaning and subtext.
Likewise, Daigneault’s collaborators -- designers Erik D. Diaz (Scenic), Jeff Adelberg (Lighting), David Remedios (Sound), and Charles Schoonmaker (Costume) skillfully help to flesh out their personas within the play’s naturalistic setting.
In the end, though, the final honors go to McNally for his beautiful script. Both funny and poignant, the play, which has seen several incarnations in various mediums over a period of 27 years, depicts the cultural shifts in the gay community as well as the national stage. Outwardly, a story about family, “Mothers & Sons” illustrates the transformative changes over time of what truly constitutes a family.
At 76, McNally has enjoyed a stellar career. Winner of four Tony Awards (“Love! Valour! Compassion!,” “Master Class,” “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” and “Ragtime”), he currently has two shows on Broadway: the hit comedy “It’s Only a Play” and the Chita Rivera musical “The Visit.” Previous honors include the Dramatists Guild Lifetime Achievement Award, two Guggenheim Fellowships, a Rockefeller Grant as well as being inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame in 1996.
Thanks to McNally’s accomplished writing, at 2 hours and 40 minutes, SpeakEasy’s “Mother’s & Sons” not only delivers an impressive time at the theater, but also many hours of deep conversation long after the lights have dimmed. - 30 -
“Mothers and Sons” (till June 6) SpeakEasy Stage Company @ Roberts Studio Theatre in the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 1(617)-933-8600 or visit www.SpeakEasyStage.com