The first play of our Broadway week takes a down a more serious path than the last two shows. This was a last minute substitution as our original play closed early and weighing the available options it was a pretty easy decision to go with the show that stars Tyne Daly; she's been on the list of performers I need to see on stage for a while now. I do like crossing items off my lists!
I'm having a hard time coming up with a way to explain the new play by Terrance McNally. I really enjoyed it, it made me cry, it was very well acted. I think the issue is that what was going on was complex and had many different layers of conflict. Instead of trying to provide a synopsis, which really would require giving you the full text of the play lets try and hit on the major and some minor themes. It is about a mother who loves and loses her son, Andre, to AIDS; although in her mind she lost him before that, she lost him to the glamour of New York City and to his lover, Cal. She's a woman who made the bargain of a loveless marriage to get out of a life she hated only to end up in a life she hated and tied all her potential happiness to her son, so much so that she aborted a second child. She really expected, not unlike many unhappy women, that having a child would make her happy and feel loved. That's a lot to put on an infant.
She made her son her world, someone she could, should, love unconditionally and who would, should, love her unconditionally but at the same time she resented that she had no identity of her own; she was a wife and mother and she never had the courage to try and be herself. When her son leaves to find his own life, as children are wont to do, she resents it and that resentment is exacerbated when he "chooses" a life and lover that she cannot approve of. Would she have approved of anyone regardless of gender? Likely not; that he lived a life she could not approve of made it worse; or perhaps that he kept his true self a secret from her, hurt her worse than the nature of the secret itself.
When she arrives in New York, 20 years after Andre's death, she is rudderless. Her husband has passed away unlamented and the tides somehow push her back to Cal, Andre's lover and the person who was with him 'til the end. There is deep resentment and anger between theses two characters. Catherine, Andre's mother, deeply resents that Cal has moved on, he has a husband and a child and a life of his own determining and she is not far from where she was 20 years ago. Cal resents that during a time of mutual loss and grief they should have been their for each other; that she should have been there for Andrea at the end and that what he has now was never possible with Andre. The difference in the two is that Cal's feelings and behavior toward Catherine are ameliorated by Andre's love for his mother. He sees a woman, who he once saw a monster, floundering and reaches out purely for Andre's sake. Catherine on the other hand, never really knew of Andre's love for Cal and doesn't really see him as anything but a last conduit to her son and honestly she just isn't that sentimental of a person.
I'm not sure if any of that makes sense, it did in the moment. Of course, the underlying theme portrayed is the socio-political difference twenty years have made. Cal has a husband, a son, something that wasn't an option 20 years ago. AIDS was once a death sentence. Having lived through the changes we've had in our society, it does become easy to forget the hatefulness and carelessness that existed in those days; the perfunctory dismissal at the idea of gays as having any claim to the same right that "normal" people; that "don't ask, don't tell" was the societal norm. We certainly have a ways to go, but as you watch courts strike down gay marriage bans across the country there is a sense that we're nearing the tipping point in the battle.
Ms. Daly as expected does a wonderful job, this is a reticent character that is not particularly likable but she enables you to see the wounded woman beneath. Fredrick Weller as cal, came off as wooden sometimes but that could have been part of his character affect, he has his own inhibitions to overcome as well. Bobby Steggert as the "new" husband was quite good and the small annoying child actor was just that and loud, he was kind of loud and overly precocious. Sorry, the list of child actors that haven't annoyed me is short and finite. In all a very good play that when viewed in years to come will will make future generation wonder why it was all such a big to do once upon a time.