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BWW Reviews: MOTHERS AND SONS Favors Compassion In The Face Of Intolerance

A few days after counter-protesters greeted the gay-hating members of the late Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church with a banner reading "Sorry For Your Loss," Terrence McNally opens a play on Broadway with the same message of showing compassion for those who would treat others with intolerance.

BWW Reviews:  MOTHERS AND SONS Favors Compassion In The Face Of Intolerance
Frederick Weller and Tyne Daly (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Not that you'd expect Katharine Gerard, the mother of Mothers and Sons, to be found among those brandishing homophobic signs outside a funeral, but 20 years after her son Andre's death, she is determined to find out who made him gay and who murdered him with AIDS.

Played in one continuous ninety-five minute scene, the lightly humorous, but confrontational drama is a follow-up to McNally's short play, Andre's Mother, where Katharine aloofly observed the memorial ceremony arranged by her son's long-term lover, Cal.

Cal remembers how Katharine cut off contact with Andre once he came out to her. He, on the other hand, stuck with him to the end, even though his infidelity is what led to his death.

The play is set in the envy-inspiring home that Cal shares with his husband, Will, and their precocious son, Bud. Designed with a comfy, casual feel by John Lee Beatty, the spacious Central Park West apartment has an impressive view of Frederick Law Olmsted's urban oasis.

Katharine grew up in Westchester, but moved to Dallas after getting married. Recently widowed, she makes a surprise visit to Cal, under the pretense of returning Andre's journal, as a stopover on her way to Rome.

BWW Reviews:  MOTHERS AND SONS Favors Compassion In The Face Of Intolerance
Bobby Steggert, Frederick Weller, Grayson Taylor, and Tyne Daly
(Photo: Joan Marcus)

In lesser hands, Katharine would come off simply as an obnoxious bigot ("After all these years, it still sickens me," sums up her view of gay relationships.) but Tyne Daly draws you in with the subtle show of loneliness beneath the character's emotional armor. First seen wearing a full-length fur and spouting her ignorance with conviction ("Andre wasn't gay when he came to New York."), Katharine emerges as a woman who recognizes that the world around her has changed and though she insists that homosexuality is a choice, she battles her own guilt for the choices she once made.

Frederick Weller matches her performance with his sensitive and patient Cal. Under Sheryl Kaller's direction, the two of them share an engaging give and take. Though he doesn't back down when Katharine is at her most offensive, Cal considers her to be more innocently unaware than hateful.

Katharine resents that Cal has been able to move on with his life and find happiness with another man, but much of Cal's grief comes from the fact that he never had the legal opportunity to live in domestic normalcy with Andre, as he does with Will. ("Relationships like mine and Andre's weren't supposed to last. We didn't deserve the dignity of marriage. Maybe that's why AIDS happened.")

15 years Cal's junior, Will, played with feisty energy by Bobby Steggert, is an aspiring novelist who grew up accustomed to a world of uncloseted gay people demanding their rights and prides himself in helping to raise a child of a more accepting future generation. Young Grayson Taylor does a fine job as Bud, whose innocent honesty spurs on discomforting and revealing moments.

While Mothers and Sons doesn't contain much of a narrative to propel the evening, McNally's conversations - poignant, funny, combative - make for a touching evening performed by an excellent ensemble. As Cal and Katharine awkwardly connect with each other, they also acquire a deeper understanding of the man they will both always love.

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