Mothers and Sons
by Terrence McNally
Reviewed by Alina Oswald
You read the title. Skim over the brief summary. Think you know what Mothers and Sons, a recent play by four-time Tonywinner Terrence McNally, is all about. And yet, nothing prepares you for what unfolds in front of your eyes, when sitting in the audience.
Mothers and Sons is more than a story about mothers and sons, as the title hints at, and it’s more than a story that touches on AIDS, as the brief summary suggests. Rather, Mothers and Sons offers a new dimension to a complex, yet mundane universe we call family. It redefines the meaning of family in a timely, and also timeless, manner as a space where past and future collide, secrets spill out, allowing the truth to fill the emptiness left by loss.
We recognize ourselves in the characters—in their tears and smiles, in their pasts, fears, dreams and desires—in part, because of the story itself, and also because of a star-studded cast, comprised of Tyne Daly and Frederick Weller, also Bobby Steggert and Grayson Taylor (who makes his Broadway debut), that majestically brings it to life.
At its core, Mothers and Sons tells the story of a woman who comes to New York City to revisit a painful past—marked by losing her son to AIDS, haunted by ghosts and unspoken truths—only to discover the surprising possibility of a second chance at life and happiness, and a potential future sketched out by modern times and families, just like the one of her son’s surviving partner, his much younger husband, and their young son. A common thread that comes alive throughout the play is love—love between a mother and her son, between parents and their children; love between lovers or spouses; and between generations, those defined not only in terms of family, but also by society, and the tragedy of AIDS. Love, underscored by a newly found sense of forgiveness and understanding, survives disease, death and time to hold relationships together and to allow the complicated dynamics of the family universe to make room for new beginnings, and also hope.
Mothers and Sons offers a powerful, life-changing experience. Its story will stay with you long after the curtains go down.
Alina Oswald is a writer, photographer, and the author of Journeys Through Darkness: A Biography of AIDS. Contact her at www.alinaoswald.com.