Beck Center’s “Mothers and Sons” Capable Acting Can’t Overcome McNally’s Penchant for Monologue
By Marjorie Preston
The Beck Center’s Studio Theater’s current production of the funereal drama “Mothers and Sons” features strong acting but long-winded and implausible writing.
Frosty recent widow Katharine (Catherine Albers), now living in Texas, plucks up the courage to visit her late son Andre’s ex-partner, Cal (David Bugher) several years after her son’s death. She arrives in New York City and begins a stilted conversation with Cal, where she refuses to sit down, take off her coat or have anything to drink. It becomes clear that she is afraid and frustrated by the mere presence of gay people while simultaneously wanting to connect over her son’s death. Once Cal’s new partner, Will (Scott Esposito) arrives, she assents to a drink, but does not shake Will’s outstretched hand. She is surprised to learn that the two live successful lives as money manager and writer, and further taken aback to learn that they are raising a son, Bud (Ian McLaughlin).
The world has been changing around these characters, leading Cal and Will to be happily legally married with a child and Katharine to assess who she is if she is not “Andre’s mother.” Katharine questions why her life has gotten progressively worse and why Cal’s has gotten better in the ensuing years following Andre’s death.
Albers’ thoughtful portrayal of the unstable widow conveys the beliefs of some in the Silent Generation who disapproved of homosexuality and judged others for it. Her struggle with loving someone she didn’t understand during his lifetime comes across as a yearning for happiness. Bugher as Cal plays the father figure with gravitas, as the encounter leaves him realizing, now that he is a father, that he was judging Katharine all these years. Esposito plays the writer Will as the more emotionally-charged younger man now in Cal’s life, and he does so with a malleable physicality. The adorable McLaughlin shows range, though his lines get lost in the space at times. It’s simply implausible that Katharine would “just drop by” and indeed Will says this out loud in the play.
Director Sarah May might have created more interest had she slowed the pace occasionally to emphasize specific moments, but the play had only minor changes in pacing or volume. McNally’s characters go on so long that one of them even says in the middle of a long monologue, “I’m almost done.” The few bits of comic relief from the tension were highlights, as Cal’s “maple syrup does not recognize state lines.” Scenic Designer Richard Gould has laid everything out in the open, as NYC apartments generally go, with muted Christmas paint colors, tasteful furniture and framed Haring and Cezanne prints on the walls.
“Mothers and Sons” shows us a glimpse of life after a loved one’s passing from AIDS. Those affected by AIDS will be forever scarred by the devastating effects of the disease, which was once a life sentence with no cure in sight, particularly for gay men and their families. Unfortunately, despite capable acting, the pathos McNally was attempting to convey is muddled and timeworn and the characters, while sympathetic, become lost for all the telling. It is sad indeed, however, that perhaps the characters, on their journey, have not arrived at the introspectiveness needed to express it to us fully.
“Mothers and Sons” runs 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays through November 15 at the Studio Theater at Beck Center for the Arts. For tickets, call (216) 521-2540 or visit www.beckcenter.org. The play contains adult language and themes.