Review Roundup: ‘Mothers and Sons’

Mothers and Sons, four-time Tony winner Terrence McNally’s new play, opened at the Golden Theatre on March 24. Tony and Emmy winner Tyne Daly (Gypsy, Cagney and Lacey) stars as Katherine, a Dallas widow paying a surprise visit to the Upper West Side apartment of Cal (Frederick Weller), the former lover of her son, Andre, who died of AIDS twenty years ago. Cal is now married to a much younger man, Will (Bobby Steggert), and they have a young son, Bud (Grayson Taylor). Tony nominee Sheryl Kaller (Next Fall) directs the play which had its world premiere at the Buck County Playhouse inPennsylvania last year. The play is the first to portray a legally married gay couple on a Broadway stage.

The New York critics were sharply divided on the script, ranging from Elizabeth Vincentelli of the New York Post who called it a “clunker” to Adam Feldman of Time Out New York who found it “arguably McNally’s best play in 20 years.” Some commented that the characters were stilted and the situation contrived while other cheered the set-up as moving and believable. Most reviewers praised McNally’s intentions to portray the shifting social conditions for gay and straight families but many called the drama underdeveloped. Despite their disagreements on the play itself, all threw roses at Tyne Daly’s complex, incisive performance as the conflicted Katherine. Here are excerpts from the major reviewers.

The cast of Mothers and Sons on Broadway (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Bobby Steggert, Frederick Weller, Grayson Taylor, and Tyne Daly star in Mothers and Sons Broadway (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Ben Brantley, New York Times
Mothers and Sons… is wrapped in a sense of urgency that paradoxically saps it as a drama. It wears its significance defiantly and a bit stiffly, rather as Ms. Daly’s character, a Dallas matron visiting Manhattan, wears the big, blocky fur coat in which we first see her.”

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News
“There’s grist for a provocative and touching drama as a mom takes stock of the life her son might have had. But the script doesn’t go there. Instead it careens from expositional jibber-jabber (West Siders versus East Siders) to pithy one-liners (Calrelates how he struggled with calling Will his ‘hu—hu—hu—sband’) to preachy asides (Will waxes philosophical about AIDS becoming a ‘footnote’ as life goes on).”

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post
“Under Sheryl Kaller’s stilted direction, all three adults look uncomfortable, though at least Daly’s character is meant to be that way. The actress suggests a world of pain, grief and anger behind the stoic, matronly facade, and she lands her zingers with ease.”

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press
“The 90-minute play moves quickly, and although some of the most angry exchanges seem to erupt from nowhere, the playwright beautifully shows how close to the surface long-suppressed emotions and slights can fester.”

Linda Winer, Newsday
“This is a ‘never forget’ message that McNally surrounds with a sentimental, four-generation family story with plenty of his sharp observations and wit, but not enough to disguise the mechanics and contrivances that drive his worthy intentions.”

Adam Feldman, Time Out New York
“Though dated at times, and shaded with passive aggression, this is arguably McNally’s best play in 20 years…. And Daly’s commanding performance helps check McNally’s impulses toward pop sociology and reverse nostalgia. She has the strength and give of melting steel.”

Elysa Gardner, USA Today
“For those who can look past [its] weaknesses…Mothers emerges as one of the more engaging and uplifting new plays of the season. It doesn’t hurt, certainly, that McNally and director Sheryl Kaller have for their leading lady the irreplaceable Tyne Daly, who makes Katharine’s quirks and contradictions so vivid that you’ll find yourself at once offended by her and richly entertained.”

David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter
“Tyne Daly is far too grounded and honest an actor to give an inauthentic performance, but she deserves a more satisfying play than Terrence McNally’s Mothers and Sons….[W]hile it’s absorbing and at times mildly affecting, this shapeless drama never probes deep enough, its air of artificiality making it appear to have been rushed to Broadway with insufficient development.”

Marilyn Stasio, Variety
“Terrence McNally tries to cover a lot of territory in Mothers and Sons…Lucky for this high-profile scribe, he has sensitive interpreters of these themes in thesps Frederick Weller and the ever-astonishing Tyne Daly. But the ideas are so diffuse and the dramatic structure so disjointed, there’s no cohesion to the material and no point to the plot.”

Melissa Rose Bernardo, Entertainment Weekly
“After Terrence McNally’s last two comic misfires—the theatrical homage And Away We Go and the opera ode Golden Age—it’s a pleasure to see the playwright return to form (and to Broadway) with his intimate portrait of a modern family, Mothers and Sons.”

Matt Windman, AM New York
“As she did in McNally’s Master Class, Daly offers a masterful performance, delivering her lines with a dry acidity and firm poise while her reactions to both men reveal her conflicted emotions. Steggert, who was previously seen this season in Big Fish, once again excels at playing a good-natured, clean-cut and sensitive youth.”

David Finkle, Huffington Post
“Not only is it a first-rate work, but I’d say that McNally, with whose dramas, comedies and librettos I’ve often found fault, has just written his best play—or if not his absolute best.”