BWW Review: Regional Premiere of MOTHERS AND SONS at Sacramento Theatre Company
Mothers and Sons, by 4-time Tony winner Terrence McNally, is a provocative study on guilt, AIDS and familial structure set almost 30 years after the beginning of the American AIDS epidemic. We get to witness all of the pain, fear, shame and frustration of the gay community from the safety of our theatre seats in a time when an AIDS diagnosis is not an immediate death sentence. It is easy, now, to look back and scream with indignation that not enough was done. We say that the administration didn't care about the marginalized members of society. Well, we must be always vigilant, lest history repeat itself.
The tale is, essentially, a pas de deux between Katharine (Lori Russo) and Cal (Casey McClellan). Katharine is the mother of Cal's long-deceased partner, Andre. Portrayed as the quintessential conservative, uptight mother, Katharine pays a surprise visit to Cal under the pretext of returning Andre's diary, which he had sent to her many years prior. Russo's Katharine says much more with her face than her biting dialogue, with it seemingly constantly searching for revenge and salvation in the views from Cal's plush penthouse apartment. The unfailingly polite Cal, who McClellan inhabits like a second skin, is immediately transported back in time to an insecure young man who is desperately seeking any kind of approval or validation. As Katharine waffles between veiled insults ("He wasn't gay when he came to New York") and painful recollections (of hearing Il Re Pastore at Andre's funeral-"If there are perfect moments, that was one of them."), Cal patiently continues to try and explain the relationship that he shared with Andre and the challenges of being a gay man in New York during the 1980s ("Something was killing us, something ugly..."). Too mired in her own self-absorption to care about anyone else's pain, Katharine is still there when Cal's husband, Will (Cole Winslow), returns home with their child, Bud (Miller Traum). Will makes his displeasure at her encroachment quite obvious, while Bud latches onto her like an inquisitive puppy searching out treats.
While it is never quite clear what Katharine is seeking, I don't think that even she knows. Answers, deliverance, forgiveness-she can find none in Cal's apartment. Perhaps, though, through the love of a child, she can begin to find a little peace.
Mothers and Sons explores important subjects in the gay community: AIDS, acceptance, inclusion, marriage and parenting. It's vital to shed light on these topics as, hopefully, society advances more and more towards equality for all. We should accept nothing less and be aware of the issues that everyone in our community faces. Casey McClellan does a masterful job of conveying the pain of being a fringe member of society while enjoying the fruits of decades of activism that led to being able to be recognized as a married man and father.
This is a piece that will make you think and challenge you to reach out to your marginalized neighbor, coworker, or family member and ask how you can support them. It will make you remember that time is fleeting and that the biggest gift that you can give someone is to love them for who they are. Embrace the differences and when you go see this show please think of William Waller, my former teacher and a tragic victim of the AIDS crisis. When we exclude, the entire world loses.
Mothers and Sons is playing at the Sacramento Theatre Company from March 21st-April 29th. Tickets may be purchased at the box office at 1419 H Street, Sacramento, online at tickets.sactheatre.org, or by calling (916) 443-6722.
Photo credit: Charr Crail Photography