Sunday, April 20, 2014

Broadway Review: Mothers & Sons with Tyne Daly

Frederick Weller and Tyne Daly . Photo: Joan Marcus.
Thank Goodness Not all Sons Have Mothers Like This
By Lauren Yarger
I have been dreaming of seeing more meaty roles for women on Broadway and we finally got one. Unfortunately, she's a nightmare of a character in Terrence McNally's play Mothers and Sons.

Tyne Daly turns in a powerhouse performance as a mother trying to come to grips with loneliness years after losing her son to AIDS. Truth be told, Katharine Gerard (Daly) lost her son, Andre, long before he died when she couldn't accept his homosexuality, wasn't part of the life he shared with his partner and when she withdrew her help and love when he contracted the dreaded disease. Now, many years later, she shows up looking for -- something -- at the home of her son's former lover, Cal Porter (Frederick Weller), now comfortably settled with a young husband, Will Ogden (Bobby Steggart), and their son, Bud Ogden-Porter (Grayson Taylor).

Tension and awkwardness fill the gracious apartment overlooking Central Park (John Lee Beatty does the sets). The last time Cal and Katharine met was at Andre's memorial service (in a 1988 sketch "Andre's Mother" by McNally) and things didn't go very well. Cal still has difficulty understanding why she never came from Texas to see her son after hearing that he was ill. Katharine still can't understand the whole homosexual thing and can't even bring herself to shake Will's hand when they meet. And Will has his own uncomfortable zone, suddenly having to deal with the ghost of Cal's perfect mate.

McNally wants us to see the frost that rewards Katharine's cold heart, but the development of the character is too uneven. The recent loss of her husband has left her all alone, but it's unlikely a wealthy society matron from Texas oil country couldn't find people to make part of her life. Still we get the sense that she is looking for a family connection -- but why she comes to New York or seeks out Cal of all people isn't clear. Ostensibly it is to return Andre's journal, which Cal had sent to her after he died, but it's kind of hard to swallow that a mother who is desperately looking for answers as to why her son took up the gay life style, how he became ill and whether he stopped loving her, had never read the pages, which of course, leads to some poignant moments when she finally does. Any normal, loving mother would have breathed in his words.  If ice really runs through her veins, however, she'd have tossed the book into the trash. So what are we to think?

At times Katharine seems interested in playing grandmother to little Bud, but is dissuaded from this goal when she discovers that he has no genetic link to Cal (and somehow this would provide a connection to Andre, she thinks). It seems unlikely DNA would matter to someone who is lonely and seeking a family, but she disassociated from her own son. How much can family mean? In the uneven character development, we're given to understand at times that the mother-son bond between Katharine and Andre was close, though. So maybe she feels maternal after all?

One minute she seems quite nice. The next, she is lashing out offensively, for no real reason.

We end up confused by the perspective. What could possibly turn a mother from her beloved son, cause her to abandon him while he's dying, then suddenly make her want to reach out to the person whom she incorrectly blames for making her son gay and infecting him? We're not sure because McNally is more concerned with making statements about the condition of gay America and the consequences of not accepting people for who they are. The result is that Katharine is really not likable and we're not sure whether we are supposed to feel sorry for her or pity those whose lives she touches.

Weller comes off much more sympathetic, with a strong performance as the man who tries to put aside his own hurt to reach out to the offensive woman and help her understand that Andre never stopped loving her. Experiencing the heartbreaking beginning of the AIDS epidemic and witnessing changes in society over the years -- and perhaps in himself -- gives him as unique perspective that keeps this play from falling into the same-old, same-old of the genre.

Cal ponders whether  history will even remember the people who knew that a diagnosis of AIDS in the 1980s was a death sentence. Will doesn't. Steggart portrays the younger partner as almost boyish. He's quick to be offended and quick to be jealous. It is a nice contrast to Cal's more settled, mature persona, as directed by Sheryl Kaller (who needs to tone down Taylor's over the top, saccharine cuteness, however.)

There's also a sort of "given" that times have changed so much that Katharine's awkwardness about the idea of two "husbands" is now a thing of the past too, however. Maybe that's the thought in New York, but McNally  might be so wrapped up in having these characters make his point, that he forgets that Katharine (whether you feel she's right or wrong) wouldn't be alone in Texas, even in 2014, in her discomfiture about same-sex marriage. Thankfully McNally doesn't attempt to portray Katharine as a Christian, a device used by almost every other playwright writing in the genre. We're never sure, however, why she finds homosexuality "unnatural."

The strong performances, particularly Daly's, make this play worth watching even if its message can be a bit forced.

Mothers and Sons runs at the Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th St., NYC. http://www.mothersandsonsbroadway.com/

Christians might also like to know:
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Homosexual activity
-- Language

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

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All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

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I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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