MOTHERS AND SONS
By Toby Zinman
For the Inquirer
We last saw Andre's mother in Terrence McNally's brief and sentimental 1994 one-act called Andre's Mother; she is holding a balloon at her son's memorial after his death from AIDS . Now, twenty years later, she returns in the full-length, Mothers and Sons, currently at Philadelphia Theatre Company, a play much longer but no less sentimental than the original springboard.
McNally often writes about gay men (Love! Valour! Compassion! among many many others) and writes about mothers (The Perfect Ganesh among others). These strands run through his long and prolific career and meet in this latest play about a woman, Katherine Gerard (Michael Learned) who arrives uninvited to visit her dead son's former lover Cal ( James Lloyd Reynolds) at his apartment in New York where he lives with his husband Will (Hugh Kennedy) and their six-year-old son Bud (a role shared by Patrick Gibbons Jr. and Jacob Wilner, who performed on opening night.)
Katherine is mink-clad, bitter, self-absorbed, lonely and often just plain nasty; the men are tolerant, the boy is curious. She is unable to forgive Andre for being gay, for dying, for not loving her enough. There are creepy moments ("He got his legs from me—I always had good legs") and ugly moments: "I got presents. I got thanks, I got 'I love you'. But I didn't get him." No wonder Andre fled as soon as he was eighteen.
Andre's mother ignores the central fact of his life with one of the funniest lines McNally ever wrote: "He wasn't gay when he came to New York." But there are many clunker lines: what New Yorker would say, "in the metropolis known as Manhattan"? And the cute child seems merely an excuse for the audience to go, "Awww."
Wendy C. Goldberg, this production's director, has her work cut out for her, since the play is entirely without theatricality. There is absolutely no dramatic reason for anybody to do anything onstage-- walk across the room, pour a drink, sit down, stand up. The dialogue is entirely exposition: each character takes a turn reciting his biography, there is the obvious device of reading pages from Andre's diary, and a box of photos providing excuses to fill us in on the past, those long gone happy days before the plague. And then a trite lecture about the bad old days. It is tedious.
The actors do what they can, and do it well, given the script. McNally is still standing on his gay soapbox, but now he is declaring triumphantly that gay men can legally marry and have children.
Wait: didn't we all already know that?