The cast received well deserved applause after Saturday's opening night performance of Terrence McNally's Mothers and Sons at New Conservatory Theater. The award winning playwright has written a spellbinding drama which paints an accurate portrait of the emotional anguish of those who survived the AIDS epidemic.
It's been 20 years since Cal (Andrew Nance) lost his “lover” (the vernacular of the previous generation) to AIDS. Now happily married to Will (Daniel Redmond), with whom he has a son, Cal attempts to reconcile with Andre's embittered mother Katherine (Velina Brown). Mothers and Sons is a sequel to McNally's television play Andre's Mother. Produced for PBS' American Playhouse in 1990, Andre's Mother starred Sada Thompson and Richard Thomas as Katherine and Cal. That film is now available on DVD.
Brown is the undisputed star of NCTC's Mothers and Sons. Katherine is a woman in her 70s. She's buried her entire family. Alone in the world, she struggles to come to terms with her life and with the loss of her son. She loved Andre, but never accepted who he was. Now she wonders who “did this” to Andre? Did she make him gay? Did Cal give Andre AIDS? Katherine needs someone to blame.
On a cold winter's night. Katherine shows up at Cal's New York City home. The two attempt to reconcile their resentments towards each other.
There are no villains in Mothers and Sons. Katherine, a woman from another era, just doesn't understand — she's been suffering for many years. So has Cal, who never quite got over the loss of Andre, even though he's happy with his new family.
It's Brown's show. A seasoned Bay Area performer, Brown is magnificently precise as a woman who allowed a tragedy to turn her own life into another tragedy. It might be easy to write Katherine off as “homophobic”, but the actress plays to Katherine's shades of gray. Brown reveals the broken heart of a bereaved mom who lives her life with regret. Andre never let Katherine into his life because she didn't want to see his truth. Now she wishes she had opened her eyes sooner.
The scenes in which Brown and Nance share the stage without their costars are mesmerizing. Each struggles to reach out to the other. Neither is able to reach back, even though they both clearly want to, McNally's dialogue, and the amazing work of these fine actors, offers but a hint of the heartbreak which haunts AIDS survivors to this very day.
Mothers and Sons, which runs at NCT through April 3, is an important work, NCT's superb production does the play justice.