McNally broke new ground with ‘Mothers & Sons’

Nancy E. Carroll and Michael Kaye in "Mothers & Sons." Photo: Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo

Nancy E. Carroll and Michael Kaye in “Mothers & Sons.” Photo: Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo

BOSTON — We are products of our own experiences, but we change and grow through the years and often our attitudes change.
Playwright Terrence McNally, who is gay and married, found himself intrigued by individuals who are still opposed to the expansion of gay rights, “who are still struggling with these changes,” as he expressed it in a recent article in the Boston Globe.
McNally first created the character of Dallas matriarch Katharine Gerard in a short play, “Andre’s Mother,” which was later expanded into a 50-minute PBS teledrama starring Sada Thompson and Richard Thomas. In it, Gerard locks horns with Cal, her son’s lover, in New York City at a memorial service after Andre has died of AIDS.
Gerard returns 20 years later to again confront Cal, this time in a well-appointed Central Park West apartment, in McNally’s “Mothers & Sons.” A 2014 Tony nominee for Best Play, there happened to be a bit of ironic scheduling as the press performance for the Speakeasy Stage Company production of the play — which continues through June 6 in the Calderwood Pavilion of the Boston Center for the Arts — was held on Mother’s Day.
With all due respect to Nancy E. Carroll as the flinty, opinionated Katharine, perhaps the performance of the production is by Michael Kaye as Cal, who is both heartfelt and heartbreaking as he defends his love and care of Katharine’s son, Andre, his former lover, and his right to have what his life is today as a successful money manager.
That life includes a husband, Will Ogden (Nile Hawyer), 15 years his junior, and a precocious, inquisitive 6-year-old son, Bud (Liam Lurker).
In “Mothers & Sons,“ Katharine has dropped in unannounced at Cal’s apartment on a cold December afternoon, given the location by Cal’s sister. They have not spoken since the memorial service for Andre 20 years earlier, and the ice isn’t just outside of the well-appointed apartment designed by Erik D. Diaz.

Nile Hawyer and Nancy E. Carroll. Photo: Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo

Nile Hawyer and Nancy E. Carroll. Photo: Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo

The fur coat Katharine is reluctant to take off that might as well stainless steel jacket for all the warmth that escapes from it.
She doesn’t approve of Cal, his new husband, or the fact they are together raising a son a son in an expensive apartment on Manhattan’s Central Park West, overlooking the park.
Katharine comes in resenting Cal and everything about his new life.
Katharine’s bluntness and Eastern sensibilities after living in Port Chester, N.Y. are hardly leavened by her many years in Texas, where Andre grew up closeted until leaving for New York City.
McNally writes from the heart and writes about what he knows, and the result is dialogue and situations that often crackle.
Katharine: “What kind of life will this child have?” she spits at Cal.
“A better one than Andre’s, and a better one than yours,” he retorts.
Hawyer as Will also spars with Katharine about her refusal to accept them and their son, well-played by Lurker, who gamefully latches on to Katharine despite her coolness.
The past is dug up and sifted through again. And there is a journal that Andrew left that may provide some answers.
Cal and Andre spent six years together, and Cal recalls how he stayed by Andre’s side throughout his illness while Katharine never once came to visit him, and how her rejection of him devastated Andre.
The performances here are fine, although “Mothers & Sons” doesn’t always measure up with the best of McNally’s work, work that is often among the very best of modern American playwrights.
McNally’s ending is hopeful — perhaps a little bit too hopeful given what has transpired for the 100 minutes until then. He is not ready to assign Katharine, a character he has nursed through so much through the decades, to the trash heap of humanity.
This time, the journey the characters have taken to get where they are today is the thing, and it’s actually a journey we have all taken together as a society.
As Director Paul Daigneault notes in the program, “Mothers & Sons” was the first Broadway play to feature a married gay couple as protagonists.
Maybe, muses McNally with his ending, it will take some people longer to get to the same place, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying to get them there.
The Speakeasy Stage Company production of Terrence McNally’s “Mothers & Sons.” Directed by Paul Daigneault. Scenic design by Erik D. Diaz. Costume design by Charles Schoonmaker. Lighting design by Jeff Adelberg. Sound design by David Remedios. At the Calderwood Pavilion of the Boston Center for the Arts through June 6.