When it premiered in 2014, some regarded Terence McNally’s “Mothers and Sons” as a melodramatic, even facile, chronicle of the revolutionary changes in the lives of gay American men since pre-AIDS 1970s. The fine, new production at Shakespeare & Co - by dint of a riveting performance by S&Co regular Annette Miller - shines new light on McNally’s terrain, revealing not just a tale of inter-generational reconciliation but also the tragedy of a woman’s lifetime of loneliness.
Katherine Gerard, a recent widow from Dallas, visits Cal, her deceased son’s partner, 20 years after the son, Andres, an actor, died of AIDS. Cal has settled securely into comfortable married life of Manhattan affluence with a younger husband and seven-year old son. Bill Mootos as Cal, David Gow as Cal’s young husband, Will, are both excellent, as is a young Evan Miller as their boy. But at S&Co this is Katherine’s story and Ms Miller owns it beginning to end.
As Cal reminisces to Katherine about his and Andre’s relationship, McNally records details of pre-AIDS New York gay life - the discos, theatre, the partying,- then the AIDS benchmarks - the blood tests, the how-did-I-get-this, the dread and the death. Heavy material enough, but McNally’s key plot element is Katherine, feigning denial, never accepted Andres’ sexuality. She was estranged from him, even in his fatal illness.
McNally’s reveals details about Katherine’s life as precisely as he does about the”gay experience”. Katherine grudgingly then painfully opens up about growing up in the “wrong” town in Westchester, landing a husband to escape, hating housewifing in Dallas. Katherine’s Andre was all that mattered: He was the love of her life. When she confronts Cal (I’m paraphrasing) “You found someone else to love... Andres was all I had”, it hits the gut hard.
Ms Miller completes a portrait of a woman whose personhood was never full expressed. Even with a cold shrug, the chip on Katherine’s shoulder is rock solid. Her tongue is sharp. Her heart’s been cauterized with scarring pain. With impeccable timing, nuanced vocal shifts and calibrated movement - the adjusting of the skirt, the nervous twitching of hands, the folding of the arms in self-defense - Ms Miller creates an indelible, psychologically-credible, pathetic character. “Mothers and Sons” covers lots of emotional ground. To see it just for Ms Miller’s extraordinary performance is reason enough.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!