With "Mothers & Sons," McNally has again crafted a narrative that could not be more particular to time (the present) and location (the progressive Upper West Side). This time, it's a story rooted in optimism, and one that manages to look simultaneously over its shoulder and straight ahead. Daly gives an exquisite performance as a lonely, suicidal woman desperate to imagine a life her son might have led...Together, Daly and Weller have dynamic chemistry, lurching from moments of mutual respect to moments of accusation, and back...I thought "Mothers & Sons" was fantastic, for how effectively it locks down this unique period of time that is 2014, in New York City, amid the explosive progress of the gay rights movement in the last handful of years. I hope it finds a broad audience. If you're under 30, "Mothers & Sons" is a history lesson; if you're older, it may feel like the sun on your face.
MOTHERS AND SONS Broadway Reviews
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To a large extent, McNally is chronicling the revolutionary changes he has seen in the lives of gay Americans - and what playwright has more right to do so? McNally, 75, who got married in 2010, writes here with the moral authority of one who has chronicled this fast-moving history in real, dramatic time; had "Mothers and Sons" been the work of a different playwright, the way it feels in the theater would be entirely different. The persona of the writer counts for a great deal here, aesthetically, politically and otherwise. Broadway doesn't often feel like a community talking to itself about the immediate moment, but it does here. This is also an exceptionally timely play, a piece that puts great change into context and, in the Broadway world, also has the advantage of having gotten there before anyone else; same-sex marriage became legal in New York only in summer 2011.
"Mothers and Sons," which opened on Monday night at the John Golden Theater in an impeccably acted production directed by Sheryl Kaller, is wrapped in a sense of urgency that paradoxically saps it as a drama. It wears its significance defiantly and a bit stiffly, rather as Ms. Daly's character, a Dallas matron visiting Manhattan, wears the big, blocky fur coat in which we first see her...It is, in essence, a debate play with fraught emotional underpinnings, and it doesn't avoid the stasis of that genre. It also tends to sabotage its potential to move us by making the debate, rather than psychological credibility, its first priority...The performers are skilled enough that we don't hear the sound of gears stripping. But they can't entirely justify their emotional U-turns, nor keep at bay our sense that we are following a menu of subjects that must be covered before the evening's end.
Daly, the former star of the TV show "Cagney & Lacey" and later winner of a Tony for "Gypsy," is simply wonderful here, a remote and chilly guest who clings to old ideas even as she knows they are out of date and secretly pines for love. The gentle and moving "Mothers and Sons" opened Monday at the Golden Theatre, where a celebrated revival of the searing AIDS drama "The Normal Heart" was staged in 2011. As a sign of how much has changed, McNally's play is being billed as the first time a legally married gay couple has been portrayed on Broadway...The 90-minute play moves quickly, and although some of the most angry exchanges seem to erupt from nowhere, the playwright beautifully shows how close to the surface long-suppressed emotions and slights can fester.
Terrence McNally, who has astutely chronicled the thrills, the taboos and the tragedies of gay life since the mid-'60s, feels a bit too much like a playwright on a mission this time...This is a "never forget" message that McNally surrounds with a sentimental, four-generation family story with plenty of his sharp observations and wit, but not enough to disguise the mechanics and contrivances that drive his worthy intentions.
Tyne Daly isn't in Master Class this year, but she's giving one. And, paradoxically, rule No. 1 is: Give nothing away. As Katharine Gerard in Mothers and Sons, she doesn't clue you in to her intentions, or tease her next moves, or make big faces to indicate her anger at the world: an anger so unrelenting she could "let that ottoman put me in a rage." She resists crying and tells no jokes but jerks the most tears from the audience and gets the evening's biggest laughs just by standing or sitting and doing the plainest things. She reaches for a drink to balance her nerves, then doesn't drink it. She fishes reading glasses from her purse before looking through photos of her dead son. She stands within her secondhand fur coat as if it were armor.
After her debut in 1990 on PBS's "American Playhouse," the gorgon mother known as Katharine Gerard is not a character most people would care to revisit, least of all in a full-length Broadway play. But there she is on stage at the Golden Theatre, where Terrence McNally's "Mothers and Sons" opened Monday, now inhabited by Tyne Daly and acting every bit the human refrigerator that the late Sada Thompson presented in that 1990 episode titled "Andre's Mother." Did McNally bring Katharine back just to beat her up again? Maybe. Whatever, this public trashing is a riveting show. Of course, by play's end Katharine has delivered a couple of bombshells that explain her bitterness, if they don't exactly absolve her, and Daly gets some of the evening's biggest laughs without even saying a word.
Terrence McNally tries to cover a lot of territory in "Mothers and Sons": the relationships between mothers and their gay sons; the satisfactions of gay marriage; the dark, enduring legacy of AIDS; and the generation gap within the gay community. Lucky for this high-profile scribe, he has sensitive interpreters of these themes in thesps Frederick Weller and the ever-astonishing Tyne Daly. But the ideas are so diffuse and the dramatic structure so disjointed, there's no cohesion to the material and no point to the plot.
For those who can look past such weaknesses, though, Mothers emerges as one of the more engaging and uplifting new plays of the season. It doesn't hurt, certainly, that McNally and director Sheryl Kaller have for their leading lady the irreplaceable Tyne Daly, who makes Katharine's quirks and contradictions so vivid that you'll find yourself at once offended by her and richly entertained. McNally also affords Katharine the empathy that she herself withholds, so that we're always conscious of her underlying humanity.
Mike Nichols once observed that casting a well-loved actor in a play or movie makes the director's job easier: you don't have to spend the first half-hour securing audience interest in the actor's character. For proof of the remark, look no further than Mothers and Sons, the sometimes absorbing, somewhat unsatisfying new play by Terrence McNally that has arrived on Broadway. Without Tyne Daly as Katharine Gerard, who has come to New York from Dallas to bring her dead son's diary to his former lover, the character -- and the 90-minute, interval-less play -- would have struggled to engage us from the first beat.
Directed by Sheryl Kaller, the play has a rather clumsy construction, with pretexts continuously popping up for characters to leave the room - they answer the front door, go to the bathroom, give Bud his bath - so that the remaining pair can have their private conversations. "Mothers and Sons," which runs just 90 minutes, is best experienced as a kind of marker in social history, an expression of pride in progress, dignity and growing power.
Tyne Daly is far too grounded and honest an actor to give an inauthentic performance, but she deserves a more satisfying play than Terrence McNally's Mothers and Sons. There's no shortage of thematic breadth here concerning the changing dynamics for gay men and their families, in a work that considers the generational shift from AIDS victims to survivors, from incomprehension to increased acceptance, and from rights-deprived relationships to legitimate marriage and parenthood. But while it's absorbing and at times mildly affecting, this shapeless drama never probes deep enough, its air of artificiality making it appear to have been rushed to Broadway with insufficient development.
The sincere drama Mothers and Sons marks a return to familiar territory-the play is a follow-up to McNally's 1988 playlet (and 1990 telecast) Andre's Mother, in which a woman hovers at her gay son's memorial service-and also a return to form. Though dated at times, and shaded with passive aggression, this is arguably McNally's best play in 20 years...Sensitively directed by Sheryl Kaller, Mothers and Sons rarely lags as it unfurls in a single unbroken scene. And Daly's commanding performance helps check McNally's impulses toward pop sociology and reverse nostalgia. She has the strength and give of melting steel.
Devised as a single scene without pause, "Mothers and Sons" makes for a well-constructed, often funny dialogue that is both provocative and heartfelt. But after 90 minutes, very little has changed and no climax has been reached. As she did in McNally's "Master Class," Daly offers a masterful performance, delivering her lines with a dry acidity and firm poise while her reactions to both men reveal her conflicted emotions. Steggert, who was previously seen this season in "Big Fish," once again excels at playing a good-natured, clean-cut and sensitive youth.
In the opening moments of "Mothers and Sons," Cal and Katharine stare out a window of his comfortably lived-in Central Park West apartment. It's the only instance these two people will share the same view - on anything - in veteran Tony winner Terrence McNally's sincere but frustrating drama about family and fear.
A clunker of a Broadway show, "Mothers and Sons" asks us to endure the vacuous chit-chat of deeply unpleasant people. The worst part is, there isn't even a good reason for their chit-chatting in the first place. Fortunately, one of them is played by Tyne Daly, who gives the character of Katharine Gerard -- the embittered mother of a dead gay son -- the complexity and dignity playwright Terrence McNally refuses her...Under Sheryl Kaller's stilted direction, all three adults look uncomfortable, though at least Daly's character is meant to be that way. The actress suggests a world of pain, grief and anger behind the stoic, matronly facade, and she lands her zingers with ease. A lot more sympathetic onstage than on the page, Katharine ends up owning the show. Andre would have been proud.