Mothers and Sons should serve as a beacon to us all to never forget.
While Until the Flood plays out on the Virginia Jackson Browning Mainstage, Mothers and Sons kicks off The Rep’s 2016-2017 Emerson Studio Theatre series downstairs. If you haven’t been to a Studio Theatre show at The Rep you are missing out. While it is always enjoyable to watch a show in a large auditorium, Emerson Studio Theatre offers the audience an intimate viewing experience basically sitting on the stage.
In Terrence McNally’s Mothers and Sons, the subject of the AIDS epidemic and its impact on society is studied from three angles. Katharine (Darrie Lawrence) lost her son, Andre, to AIDS 20 years ago. He is survived by his partner, Cal (Harry Bouvy), who has since married Will (Michael Keyloun). Cal and Will have a 6-year-old son, Bud (Simon Desilets). Katharine visits Cal to attempt to reconcile their relationship. While the plot sounds simplistic, when matters of the heart are involved, stories like this are always complicated.
While the cast of Mothers and Sons is outstanding, the star of the show is McNally’s story. Having lived through the era of the onset of HIV/AIDS, I was shocked to discover how much of my own people’s history I have chosen to forget. Being a gay man in the 90s, watching my friends die in large numbers should be something I reflect on daily. But as the show unfolded, old wounds were reopened and buried memories surfaced.
Mothers and Sons does a magnificent job representing all sides affected by the disease. Katharine’s rage at not understanding the disease nor the LGBT lifestyle is fully realized; Will’s resentment of living in Andre’s ghost is heartbreaking; and Cal’s prism of emotions ranging from survivor’s guilt to appeasing Katharine’s frustration was characterized perfectly. All of these characters are well thought out and brought to life by a brilliant cast.
Lawrence, as Katharine, is stunning. Her crisp, biting delivery was engaging to watch. Where she really shined in her performance was when she dropped the steely demeanor and just became human. Those moments were short lived when she was looking for answers to questions that had no rational answers—questions like, “Who made my son gay?” When she exclaimed, “It wasn’t me!” the audience roared with laughter. When the issue of the AIDS quilt was brought up, and Cal told her that Andre’s name was on the quilt, her shame was all too real when she inquired about her son’s first and last name being on full display on an AIDS quilt. Lawrence really went all in with her emotions, and she effectively represented the real mothers who have lost their children to this devastating disease.
Keyloun’s Will is also fascinating to watch. Representing the generation who adapted to the AIDS epidemic, Will represents the future of the LGBT community. Making plans for the future—even reproducing thanks in part to one of his and Cal’s lesbian fiends—Will has hope that people of my generation were not afforded. While Keyloun’s overall performance was flawless, it was his body language that really took his performance over the top. With just one look to Cal, the audience could feel his frustration with the whole situation.
Then there is Bouvy in the role of Cal. His performance was one of the most believable, tender, and authentic I have ever seen. While the other roles just had their own feelings to reconcile, Cal had to deal with everyone’s, including his own and even Andre’s to a point. Bouvy brought so many of my friends to life it was hard to see him as an actor. His emotions were real, his delivery was heartfelt, and his commitment to character was unquestionable. It’s hard to take your eyes off such a talented actor like Bouvy, but with a cast of this nature, he was in good company with equally talented performers. Kudos to Simon Desilets for making his Rep debut in the role of Bud and also for making the most out of his role. It could have been intimidating for the young actor to be onstage with such formidable actors, but the young actor made his presence known by delivering a very enjoyable performance.
While the actors did their part, the technical crew also turned in a magnificent performance. Director Michael Evan Haney did a superb job in keeping the drama moving and maximizing the emotional moments onstage. I also appreciate his decision to put this story in the round as it helped the crowd witness this story unfold physically and emotionally.
James Wolk worked his usual magic in creating a living, breathing New York City apartment. Every detail was fully realized and appreciated. Even before the show began, I noticed audience members walking on the set to get a closer look at all the wonderful details. I fully appreciated how Wolk positioned the coat hanging area. As I left the theater, I truly felt as if I was leaving someone’s home.
Mothers and Sons is a reminder that HIV/AIDS continues to affect society decades after its inception. While they are still looking for a cure, we as a society are still looking for answers and emotional reconciliation. Terrence McNally has touched a nerve by reminding us of those we have lost and more importantly those who endure. The Rep’s production of Mothers and Sons should serve as a beacon to us all to never forget. It is rare that a production brings me to tears, but this production is so emotionally real and authentic in nature that it was hard not to become emotionally attached.
This production of Mothers and Sons should be compulsory viewing for not only LGBT millennials but for everyone that has been impacted in one way or another by this disease—which is pretty much everyone. So yes, everyone should go see this play and not only remember those who we lost, but also cherish those who are still in our lives. | Jim Ryan
Mothers and Sons plays at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through November 13. For tickets and showtimes, please visit www.repstl.org.
Photos: Peter Wochniak / ProPhotoSTL.com (top image) and Lon Brauer (lower left image)