Mothers and Sons

Mothers and Sons

All of the feelings. All. Of. The. Feelings.

Terrence McNally’s new Tony-nominated play Mother and Sons caught me completely off guard. I was offered free tickets the night before (thanks Danny!), and before I knew it, I was sitting in the Golden Theatre with my good pal Marianne and was in for a very intense, yet incredibly funny, ride. Talk about a charged hour and a half. You can feel it in the house. Once the audience quiets down enough to truly listen, you can hear a pin drop as the characters walk around on eggshells.

We open on a mother (the excellent Tyne Daly) and her son’s ex Cal (Frederick Weller), together at his apartment on the Upper East Side where he lives with his husband and young son. We learn very quickly how she (Katharine) feels about homosexuals, her son Andre’s previous relationship with Cal, and what ultimately ended up happening to Andre. I’m not going to give anything away, not that these are monumental secrets, but the pace at which they’re revealed is important, and I don’t want to get in the way of that.

The performances are excellent. It was great to see Frederick Weller in this role, because the last time I saw him he was playing the classic best friend jack-ass in a Neil LaBute play. Bobby Steggert as his husband Will is also wonderful. And the little kid (Grayson Taylor)! I can’t even talk about it. He does such a great job. I’d never seen Tyne Daly live, and she is a force to be reckoned with. What a presence. The entire time! She creates such a nuanced, deep, striking character. The audience knows this person. We know not to mess with this woman, and yet simultaneously, we know she’s ready to break.

The play feels a little long, and as Mare pointed out, there are some repeated beats, moments of thinking “we’ve been here before,” but at the same time it remains effective. You know something is working when a character that is never seen has that much power over a room and not just over the characters but the audience as well. Katharine’s son Andre exists only in their words and our imaginations, but he may as well be on stage with everyone else.

It’s also told in real time which I personally love and have been thinking about a lot recently because The Understudy is in real time. It’s exciting for an actor to get to tell a story from the literal start to finish. There’s a change over the course of a play in general, but when it’s in real time, that change is not only over the course of the play but that particular hour and a half. Those 90 minutes have to be awfully powerful in order to warrant a story, and this one succeeds. The last twenty minutes really struck a chord with me. All of a sudden I found myself sobbing. It was an unexpected cathartic experience. I don’t remember the last time a play triggered me in this way. To go from a few controlled tears to ultimate ugly-cry-mode was not what I had expected, but boy, did it feel good.

Mothers and Sons
Written by Terrence McNally, Directed by Sheryl Kaller
Golden Theatre, Closing June 22nd
Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich
Pictured: Tyne Daly and Frederick Weller

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