Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Mothers and Sons: Almost There

     Terrence McNally’s Mother and Sons (2014) has been directed with clarity by Timothy Douglas in the Thompson Shelterhouse space at Playhouse in the Park.  When I read it in his Selected Works:  A Memoir in Plays (2016), I found its characters’ sense of loss and rage, tempered somewhat by the passage of two decades, poignant and moving.  I warned Neil that there would be tears at the finale.  There were, but unfortunately they weren’t mine.

The Cast of Mothers and Sons*
     The play is a sequel to McNally’s teleplay André’s Mother (1990), where André Gerard had died of AIDS and his lover Cal, Cal’s family and their friends hold a memorial service for him that his mother attends, but she’s unable to come to terms with any of it or fully express herself.  Twenty years later, Katharine, André’s mother, unexpectedly visits Cal.  He has married a younger man and they have a son.  This is a ghost story in which André haunts both Katharine and Cal in very different ways.   The tone moves from politeness to anger, regret and, finally, reconciliation.  

Alvin Keith and Stephanie Berry*
     Alvin Keith and Ben Cherry are very strong as respectively Cal and his husband Will.  Stephanie Berry has the elegant demeanor and beautiful legs called for in the script.  She’s a technically accomplished actress, but she’s emotionally warm and seems accepting, which goes against the initial essence of the character.  The payoff of her character’s thaw seems more muted than in the script.  During the preview we saw, she had a couple of struggles with her lines.  There’s an intriguing, unspoken edge in casting Keith and Berry that strengthens this production, which wouldn’t be there with white performers as in the initial New York productions.  Austin Vaughan plays the youngster Bud with vivacity.  

     Junghyun Georgia Lee’s set design evoked an upper-middle class apartment in New York’s Central Park West; the color and proportion of the chaise couch rooted the play in its milieu.  The lighting was sharp except for the peculiar last cue (and it’s in the script) where it brightens intensely before the blackout.  Neil thought it was supposed to be symbolic and I think he’s right, but it wasn’t necessary because that came across in the relationship between the characters.  The costumes were appropriate, but Katherine’s dress didn’t fit as well as it could have; I caught Berry discreetly pulling it down.

     All in all, this is a good production of an important contemporary script that shows how much life has changed for gays and straights in the decades since AIDS was an immediate death sentence.

Mothers and Sons runs through April 17, 2016.
*Photos from Playhouse in the Park website.

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