Mothers and Sons, by Terrence McNally, starring Tyne Daly, Frederick Weller, Bobby Steggert, Grayson Taylor, at The Golden Theatre [CLICK HERE FOR OFFICIAL SHOW SITE AND TICKETS]
Full disclosure: (Why can’t I ever write a review without a Full Disclosure?) Bobby Steggert is from my home town, where I still (again) live, Frederick, Maryland and though he and I never worked together — which is some sort of weird miracle – I taught virtually everyone in his age group and cohort while he lived here, we shared a singing teacher, and some of my best friends and dearest children are his actual friends though we were never introduced prior to this weekend after I saw this show.
I have long loved the work of Terrence McNally and Tyne Daly, so when it came time to choose shows for my birthday wish list, Mothers and Sons was a no brainer. From the moment the curtain rose, exposing a beautiful New York apartment and Tyne Daly as Katharine, wrapped in the armor of her second-hand, full length fur and Frederick Weller as Cal, wearing clothes and mien that communicated without question that he had not been expecting any visitors, this one in particular, I was riveted by the artistry and construction of this piece of theatre — No, not just theatre, but, even more importantly, History. Capital H, History.
Long story short, Katharine is the mother of Cal’s deceased lover, the son she never fully accepted. Cal is now married to the fifteen years younger Will and they have a son. Katharine, recently widowed, has ostensibly come to return to Cal her dead son’s journal that Cal long ago sent to her, a journal neither has yet read. But there is, of course, much more going on, and much more at stake.
I know (and hope) that it will someday soon be inconceivable to people, both gay and straight, what it was like to be a gay man during the 20th century — specifically the 1960’s through the early 2000’s — and I fervently pray that some day the ways we define and limit people by gender and the gender of those to whom they are attracted is a distant memory. I am the sort of Pollyanna who wants to think that we will achieve a Utopian world in which gender race age religion size etcetera will be details that have nothing to do with how we are seen or what we are allowed, that the ONLY thing that will matter is the quality of one’s soul. I want to think that.
But it isn’t so now and it certainly wasn’t so in recent history. And being a gay man and living through the age of AIDS (which, by the way, isn’t over yet) and the indignities and the hate and the perfectly legal and — even — expected and accepted by the mainstream discrimination was a horror from which I do not expect ever to actually recover.
And I certainly won’t forget it. And the generations to come should not forget it either. We need to know the history. When Cal speaks McNally’s words about the horrors of AIDS and having been gay during that era some day being a quaint footnote in history books, I sobbed without shame. I sobbed because — like Cal and his dead lover, I too fought a fight the details of which will never be known. I spent my life changing minds one by one, and in the middle of it had to spend years in fear that who I loved, how I loved, might have been a death sentence, watching my peers and my cohort die and watching as government did NOTHING for YEARS to ease the ache, the pain, nothing to stop the disease.
Attention — as another playwright once said — must be paid. Mr. McNally pays it, in spades, and without polemic or lecture or judgment. He tells a story that tells the story. And Katharine is not unlike many people I have known, basically good, decent, loving people whose fear and ignorance caused them to be cruel, to offer silence where they ought to have offered love, who thought they had the right to judge and sometimes, even, the obligation to judge.
The world is still full of Katharines. And we do ourselves no favors — we who have been judged because of our genders ages colors religions sexualities and labels ad infinitum — by hating Katharines. We must strive NOT to judge as they have, but, rather, to understand. Not to be silent and accept their ignorance or hate, but to see beyond it, to change minds with love.
Mr. McNally does so with his work. I honor him and his journey and his experience and the ways in which he has shared it with us.
As for this production, I stopped weeping long and often enough to laugh and appreciate it. Funny. Touching. Well wrought and constructed. Tyne Daly is a glorious presence, her eyes transparent screens to her soul. She plays a woman who might be called despicable and makes you want to embrace her, and yet Ms. Daly does not pander nor soften the sharp, unloving edges of the character, she simply reveals in moments of such clarity and insight this woman’s fear and loneliness and anger that she has never, herself, been seen.
Frederick Weller was me in many ways. An older gay man, still enmeshed in what it was and how it was before, amazed and abashed and astonished at how it is now, and still not quite sure in which of those worlds he really belongs. I thought the manner in which he radiated his love for the younger Will, and his surprise at that love, and his gratitude, and yet his reticence to really believe it, somehow still connected to what was, was simply brilliant and lovely and sad and moving.
And Mr. Steggert, well, yes. He was. He simply and truly was. That he was playing a novelist with no novel yet, ha, that was enough for me. On top of that he managed, somehow, to radiate the energy of a younger gay man who is impatient with the past, with the history, but still, a little in love with it — well, he turned what could have been a caricature — a role that might have come off in lesser hands as a symbol rather than a person — into a living, breathing, I would like to marry him too human being. Lovely work. (Let me add that I also had the honor of seeing Mr. Steggert on the closing night of Big Fish in which he was equally marvelous. Believe me, if you lived in Frederick, as do I, you would be bursting with pride — and you — unlike me, did NOT get to see Mr. Steggert as Joseph many years ago in that Lloyd Webber Dreamcoat thing. So, there!)
In short — though not so short, really — I laughed, I cried, I recognized, I gasped, I argued along, I grasped at the hope, I saw the past, I envisioned the future, I thought, I remembered, I experienced along with Cal and Will and Katharine and Bud (the son) all the ups and downs and ins and outs that Katharine’s visit brought about.
Katharine, mother of Andre. Because, in the end, we must all find those who see us not just as someone’s mother or son or lover or any other label-ed thing, but, indeed, as someone with a name.
We must all be seen and have our names spoken to us, with love, with appreciation of who we are.
I am Charlie. And here I am, going. Thank you for reading me.
Please, go see this play.