If you’ve never lost a loved one, you may not need to see “Mothers and Sons.” If you’ve never wished for love and understanding, you might not appreciate Terrence McNally’s moving play. Everyone else, however, should experience Raleigh Little Theatre’s heart-warming, thought-provoking production.
Katharine Gerard lost her 29-year-old son Andre to AIDS in the mid-1990s. Twenty years, later, after her husband’s death, she’s bitter and conflicted. She’s come to New York City to see Cal Porter, Andre’s partner for six years.
Katharine never accepted her son’s sexuality and blames Cal for his death. She’s not spoken to Cal for 20 years but uses the return of Andre’s journal as an excuse for a long-simmering confrontation. Cal’s been with Will Ogden for 11 years now and is raising 6-year-old Bud with him, a situation that further confounds Katherine.
Over the course of the afternoon, Katharine, Cal and Will engage in various accusations and counterattacks. Though little progress is made, the air clearing lays groundwork for some conciliation.
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The 95-minute one-act’s wise messages about unconditional love and the consequences of withholding it allow flaws to be forgiven. The textbook-like explanations of the AIDS crisis and some soapbox grandstanding about gay rights don’t flow naturally as dialogue. The script also jumps constantly from punch lines to raw drama, causing character inconsistencies, especially for Katharine.
Director Timothy E. Locklear’s deep understanding of the situation smooths over the bumps, providing laughter, gasps and not a few tears.
Rebecca Johnston’s Katharine is hardened and angry, her coldness covering a disappointingly lonely life. Johnston deals gamely with the ping-pong dialogue, gaining heart-rending sympathy in Katherine’s climatic self-examination. Andrew Farmer makes Bud’s rambunctious inquisitiveness charming.
Brian Westbrook’s facial expressions and body language signal Cal’s every thought, along with his subtly shaded delivery. Christopher Maxwell’s Will is winningly forthright, unwilling to suffer Katharine’s insults and fiercely defensive of his parenting skills and devotion to Cal. Their beautifully rendered couple offers some of this year’s most affecting acting.
Joncie Sarratt’s neatly designed apartment seems too generic for the characters’ taste as indicated in the script, but Thomas Mauney lights it effectively.
Kudos to Raleigh Little Theatre’s timely production that provides everyone on the spectrum a chance to recognize themselves and take away better understanding for differing perspectives.
What: “Mothers and Sons”
Where: Raleigh Little Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh
When: 8 p.m. Sept. 29-30, Oct. 1, 6-8; 3 p.m. Oct. 2, 9
Tickets: $24 (seniors/students $20)
Info: 821-3111 or raleighlittletheatre.org.