Over the past 20 years, the LGBT community has seen a whirlwind of changes: drug regimens have made AIDS a chronic and now preventable affliction, gays and lesbians are now allowed to serve openly in the military, gay professional athletes are competing openly, same sex marriage is an option in nearly half the states, the paradigm of the “traditional family” is changing as more and more couples raise children.
But what about those who are still mourning the losses of sons, brothers, friends and lovers to the AIDS epidemic so many years ago? This is the premise of “Mothers and Sons,” the powerful Terrence McNally drama that opened last weekend at GableStage at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables.
Catharine Girard (Angie Radosh) is one of those people trapped in a bitter, unending cycle of pain. Her son, Andre, an aspiring young actor left her constricting home in Dallas to pursue his dreams and explore his sexuality. Just a few years later, at the young age of 29, he would be stricken by the “gay cancer” and buried by his partner of six years, Cal (Michael McKeever).
Catharine, newly widowed, unexpectedly shows up at Cal’s home 20 years later on a recent winter afternoon and is shocked by what she finds. Cal, a successful 50 year old money manager, is now married to an aspiring writer 15 years his younger, Will (Jeremiah Musgrove), and together they are raising a 6-year-old son, Bud (alternately Gabe Sklar and Max Leifman).
She cannot believe that her son’s “friend” has moved on, reconciled Andre’s death and found joy in life when she has not. Armed with Andre’s unopened diary, she arrived with an agenda, seeking one last act of verbal revenge against the man who obviously turned her son gay and eventually killed him.
What ensues is a sharp discourse as her traditional values and idealized vision of her son are crushed by the revelation of his promiscuity (He was not monogamous and put Cal’s health at risk.) and societal acceptance of the “homosexual lifestyle.”
Indeed, McNally’s play is a haunting reminder of the struggles of the gay community before this relatively recent renaissance. At one point, he reminds the audience the AIDS epidemic will soon be relegated from a chapter in the history books to a paragraph to, someday, just a footnote.
In fact, McNally has commented in interviews that one of his reasons for writing the play was to remind audiences of the human toll of a practically forgotten era. At times, Catharine comes across as a surrogate for McNally’s generation, voicing resentment at the seeming “easy time” young gays and lesbian now enjoy, unaware of the struggles and losses of their elders.
Under Joseph Adler’s inspired direction, McNally’s emotional dialogue is perfectly paced and carefully avoids melodrama. Both Radosh and McKeever, Carbonell Award-winning actors, give powerful, yet nuanced performances that will certainly earn them more critical accolades and continue to draw tears from audiences.
The chemistry between the actors is mesmerizing as Radosh’s Catharine initially refuses to reconcile her pain and prejudices and McKeever’s Cal alternately engages and withdraws, uncertain whether she is capable of understanding and accepting the peace he has found. Musgrove’s strong performance highlights the changing attitudes of a younger generation that is equally intolerant of intolerance and eager to engage “bigots.”
Adler and GableStage always offer thought provoking, high quality productions and “Mothers and Sons” is one of those “must see” shows of the fall theater season.
“Mothers and Sons” by Terrence McNally is playing at GableStage, 1400 Anastasia Ave. in the Biltmore Hotel, Coral Gables through Oct. 19. Tickets start at $40 at GableStage.org.