In MOTHERS & SONS, we never meet the son, but we meet his mother immediately, center stage, heavily defended in thick fur. Katherine (Nancy E. Carroll) has just paid a surprise visit to her deceased son’s former partner Cal (Michael Kaye) and they’re having an awkward conversation while staring out the window of the high rise apartment building where Cal lives with his new husband Will (Nile Hawver) and their little boy Bud (Liam Lurker). From this vantage point they all parse the answers to the troubled relationship Katherine had with her late son Andre. Andre died of AIDS estranged from his mother whose grief and anger continue to tear at her.
A 2014 Tony nominee for Best Play, MOTHERS & SONS is the latest from Tony Award-winning playwright Terrence McNally, directed by Paul Daigneault and is in the last week of its New England premiere at SpeakEasy Stage. It’s flawed but fearless in its excavation of the traps that lace any relationship between parent and child, namely– the extent to which an offspring fulfills the needs and expectations of the parent, and the extent to which the parent accepts/loves the child as they are.
Instead, Katherine remarks in the play’s climactic last moments, “I was afraid of him…He was supposed to let me love him the way I’d never been loved. I was going to make him happy the way I’d never been.” How is the cool, sometimes cruel, and always needy Katherine in possession of such wisdom?? Nevertheless, it’s extraordinarily insightful; McNally’s script gets at the nugget of so many dysfunctional relationships, and the truth of the observation reverberates far beyond the issues between parents and their gay children.
That said, the play is talky and over long, straying into a sugary Oreo-cookie ending, and some simplistic speculation. At one point Cal states suggests that because gay men hadn’t been allowed the dignity of marriage, “Maybe that’s why AIDS happened.” And “Pop-Pop” and “Pappy” raise helicopter parenting to new heights; young “Buddy Bud Bud” ‘s bath time ritual is so long and involved, I feared an offstage drowning.
But the performances are excellent, especially that of the unfailingly compelling Nancy E. Carroll whose trademark deadpan can make you wince or laugh; here she treads a line between heartache and cracking wise delicately negotiated to break your heart. She’s desperately trying to get unstuck, from a time, place, and social milieu that is very specific to her psychic and emotional landscape– but she lets us in. In fact, all of the performances are deeply relatable and make these particular relationships so universal as to shed light on the loaded compact between mothers and children whoever they may be. See SpeakEasy’s MOTHERS & SONS at the BCA Stanford Calderwood Pavilion before it closes JUNE 6.
For a lighter dose of theater, check out The Lyric Stage Company’s effervescent LIGHT UP THE SKY, Moss Hart’s valentine to the magic of theater and the backstage sturm und drang of putting on a show out of town in Boston(!) before it heads to Broadway! The leading lady, the writers, the producer, the drinks, the tryouts, the critics, it’s a hit or it stinks! The cast is a “who’s who” of marvelous Boston veterans who routinely light up our stages: Paula Plum as soignee leading lady Irene Livingston, Will LeBow as money-grubbing, piano-playing producer Sidney Black, Richard Snee as Owen Turner the writer who’s written it all, Will McGarrahan as the giddily grandiose, piano-playing (who doesn’t play?!) director Carleton Fitzgerald, Kathy St. George as Sidney’s champagne-swigging and still sprightly skating star wife Frances, and Bobbie Steinbach– funnier than I’ve ever seen her as the diva’s wisecracking, curler-clad mother Stella!
Scott Edmiston directs with gentle affection. The scenic design and costumes by Janie E. Howland and Gail Astrid Buckley are a dream of drapes and dinner jackets, sumptuous sofas and cigarette boxes, gold lame and tiaras, grand pianos and grand gestures, while the shriners party absurdly next door! The references to Boston’s own Ritz Carlton, The Colonial Theatre, and critic Elliot Norton made me long for those old-fashioned days when people wore tuxedos and heels to opening nights– not jeans and sneakers, and Boston percolated with the excitement of a bottle of bubbly being cracked open as a new show was either christened or sank. Ah me. See LIGHT UP THE SKY and savor sweet silliness of a time gone but still lights up the LYRIC STAGE through June 13!