"Mothers and Sons"
If you want to see “Mothers & Sons,” Terrence McNally’s newest play, currently playing at the Golden Theatre, you’ll have no trouble finding tickets. At discount even. There are two reasons for this.
First, though it’s by no means an awful play (it’s not even a bad one), it’s not great, either. The performances are quite good (star Tyne Daly is nominated for a Tony, as is the play), and director Sheryl Kaller mostly keeps the throttle open, but the story seems to start for no good reason and never gives us a plausible justification why these characters would choose to stay in the same room with each other for five minutes, let alone a hundred and five.
The story begins when Katherine Gerard (Daly) shows up unannounced on the doorstep of Cal Porter, her son’s former boyfriend/lover/partner. Katherine’s son had died of AIDS two decades earlier, and now Katherine has decided that on this trip to New York from her home in Dallas (where, apparently, she learned how to be an ignorant bigot – or perhaps it was just her inborn bigotry coming into flower in a field especially well-suited to that particular crop) to return her son’s diary, which Cal had sent to her a few years previous. Neither of them apparently has – or wants to – read it.
Soon, Cal’s husband Will and their son-through-surrogacy, Bud, show up. Old wounds are scratched open, clichés dispensed, ignorance exposed (“Everything I say is inappropriate,” according to Katherine) and yet, somehow, in the play's final line we are expected to believe there is a shot at redemption?
On the bright side, there is a brief, funny – and true – rant on how the availability of the word “husband” has changed the way gay couples can talk about their relationships, and you get to spend a couple of hours looking at another of John Lee Beatty’s gorgeous sets. (You could smell the envy in the audience as Cal stood in his spacious living room, describing his view from Central Park West over the park to Fifth Avenue and the building where Jackie O used to live.)
Here’s the second reason why seats are available, at discount, for a show by a well-known, well-loved playwright starring one of Broadway’s best: the timing’s all wrong. We’re in a post-gay world. Over at the Belasco, Neil Patrick Harris wears golden high heel boots, denim daisy dukes and a variety of wigs (all blond) as a character whose “sex change operation got botched” leaving him with “an angry inch” – and you can’t get near the place. My guess is audiences aren’t as interested in the travails of gay men and the tragedy of AIDS as they are in a really great story – or a really good time.
I wish “Mothers & Sons” provided at least one of those.