THE NEW NORMAL IS THE HEART OF THIS STORY AND “MOTHERS AND SONS” OPENS THAT DOOR TO LIFE AFTER AIDS
Four-time Tony Award winner Terrence McNally’s powerful play MOTHERS AND SONS is now on stage at the CLTC through February 17th. MOTHERS AND SONS received a Tony nomination for Best Play on Broadway in 2014. Directed by the expert Jeffrey Bracco he says “Mothers and Sons is full of wisdom and coping with loss. The play reminds us of the thousands of families, lovers and friends that are still living with the crisis of AIDS.”
Katherine is curious to be in the home of Cal Porter played by Damian Vega, Will is his husband played by the terrific Max Tachis, and their son Bud played by the young actor Izaiah Gutierrez. The tidy family lead an affluent unpredictable life in a very posh NY apartment. The accomplished Lillian Bogovich plays Katherine who arrives unexpectedly to ask questions about her dead son; Cal’s previous lover Andre, who has been long dead yet is present everywhere in the story. Katherine has yet to come to terms with her unhappy life and hasn’t spoken to Cal in years because the two don’t particularly like each other. This five-minute “drop in” stretches out even after she plans to leave but something keeps her there, and this is where the 90 minute visit gets intriguing.
Katherine walks into Cal’s apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan that overlooks Central Park and is dressed to show off her once success. Mom enters with a fur coat, wool dress, haughty attitude, and conservative values. Anna Chase’s costumes capture that Nancy Reagan look, yet she kept the guys in the company dapper and very casual. The world has left Katherine and Bogovich’s distinct attitude is superb; everyone she’s cared about is gone or dead. She has nothing left. She knows that Cal has everything, financial success, a husband, and a bright child. She dislikes Cal for representing Andre’s illness, for her son’s death, and being able to move on. But Cal resents her for abandoning her son as his illness killed him. There is a rage to Katherine, everything has been taken from her. Bogovich finds that balance in the character, Katherine can be monstrous, but she is also human. Just as tempers flare they cool down, Cal plays the kind host, because despite everything Andre has bonded these two people together.
Cal, 40 and Will, 33 with their daily routines as a modern gay couple raising a son are so the normal that McNally does not invest in their arch, their relationships is matter of fact. MOTHERS AND SONS is a story about family, gay marriage and AIDS, and in this case, the politics are personal. It’s a play about real people who lived through death, loneliness and changes and how it shaped them. Will is much younger than Cal, his generation didn’t live through the AIDS epidemic, his memory is shaped by the effecting change of the generation before him. Their perfect son Bud is growing up in the same-sex house, he is the next generation and we can only see his future as bright and to be matter of fact.
Young Gutierrez is wonderful as the young boy who sees a bright light as he hopes his new Grandmother accepts him. This is a difficult role for a preteen to play and it is usually cast by two actors since the role is so demanding. It is very impressive to see the 5th grader take on this challenge and he doesn’t miss a beat, he captured the subtext of the show and is a natural on stage.
Director Bracco skillfully hits the nuances of McNally’s work, he sides with the gay characters, all treated sympathetically. I actually enjoyed the scenes when the entire cast was on stage, the young son and two dads interact with their new mom. The six year old Bud is a scene stealer and really is the game changer for Kate's feelings about family and loss. The ideal Tachis as Will is stunning in his outbursts as he challenges Katharine. It was great to see Tachis back on the CLTC stage. Vega as Cal I feel was miscast, but took the difficult role to heart.
Ron Gasperetti's and Paulino Deleal’s wonderful detailed set is deep with layers; a beautiful living room in an apartment on the Upper West Side. I was off to the side of the stage so I got to glimpse the partially obscured hallway that runs from the living room, it was decorated past where most of the audience could see, I appreciated the detail, that prop master Miranda Whipple created to make the set feel like a real home where people live. Mary Baronitis’ lighting design gave this single set a real feel of an upper class apartment as we see the room turn from late midday to early evening and the inside lighting gleams. Stage Managers Philip Jacke, Alex Driggers and Chiarra Sorci kept the tight four member cast on cue and George Psarras’ sound design pre-show music is timely.
MOTHERS AND SONS captures big ideas told through a small window and it’s moving without being heavy handed and tells us the story of new families that have occurred for gay people in the past twenty seven years. It is a family story as much about personal and social change as it is about loss and love. AIDS transformed the idea of family over time It is touching and a wonderful cast captures this McNally classic bringing the former AIDS era to millennials. In The Bay Area Reporter McNally writes to his Bay Area fans; he shares, he is indeed Andre in this story, and goes on to say “The Bay Area has taken very good care of me over the years and I am grateful.” And we are grateful to have one of your best staged plays here this winter season. Next up at CLTC is "Eurydice," by playwright Sarah Ruhl, opens in March and the icon musical CABARET will close out the season July 18th. In the meantime come early to the CLTC to see the timeline about the AIDS epidemic posted in the lobby.
City Lights Theatre Company
THE SOUTH BAY PREMIERE OF TERRENCE MCNALLY’S
MOTHERS AND SONS
By Terrence McNally
Directed by Jeffrey Bracco
Must Close Feb 17th
Lillian Bogovich, Damian Vega, Max Tachis,
and Izaiah Gutierrez
City Lights Theater
529 S. Second St., San Jose, CA 95112
Photo’s by Steve DiBartolomeo.