Strident, a woman with whom to reckon, Tyne Daly's Katharine Gerard is a force of nature. Encased in fur, she's the refrigerator-sized iceberg in Terrence McNally's Mothers and Sons, a new play that opened at the Golden Theater on Monday. Well, never has a joke carried such heft: if it isn't one thing, it's your mother!
Arriving unannounced at the Upper West Side apartment of her dead son's lover, Cal (a terrific Frederick Weller) now newly married and with a son, she represents every parent who could not understand or accept a gay child. Her only son, Andre died of AIDS in the early scourge of that plague; it's not an event that can heal, even after decades. And here's the switch: she is the one alone, ostracized, loveless, and finally embraced. The play, an extension of material McNally first wrote back in the late '80's, is an important social and political history that culminates in being the first Broadway play to feature a gay marriage.
This is the second new McNally play of the season, with "And Away We Go," a gender- neutral romp through theater history at the Pearl Theater. That play, with its clutter of props was a valentine to theater; clearly, Mothers and Sons comes from a personal place; and everyone on this special night seemed connected: Marilyn Horne, Bernadette Peters, Marsha Mason, Chita Rivera, Marilu Henner, Donna Murphy, Liz Smith, Iris Love, Cindy Adams, among them, wishing to wear Tyne Daly's fur in the freezing night to the after party at Sardi's.
Accepting accolades, a standing ovation, and flowers, McNally acknowledged two women in the audience: Zoe Caldwell (McNally wrote Master Class for her and Daly reprised the role in a recent revival) and comedian/ director Elaine May. McNally claims he learned to write people instead of symbols from her. He says, "Audiences do not want to be lectured by Terrence McNally on the social and political state of America." But the playwright may have gotten more than this inspiration from Elaine May. Check out one of her classic skits with Mike Nichols entitled, "Mother and Son."
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.