Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Regional Reviews

Mothers and Sons
Aux Dog Theatre Nob Hill

Also see Rob's review of The King and I

L to R: AJ Carian, Kenneth Ansloan, Colleen McClure, and Asher Corbin
If the United States had a gay playwright laureate, it would be Terrence McNally. (Tony Kushner's not old enough yet; and sorry, Larry Kramer, one good play is not enough.) Laureates are honored for their body of work, and in almost all cases, their best writing is behind them by the time they receive the honor. Having just seen McNally's 2014 play Mothers and Sons at the Aux Dog Theatre, in its first production west of the Mississippi, I'd say that McNally's best work is behind him too.

It's not that this is in any way a bad play, it's just that it's not much of a play. It's a plotless hour and a half of talk, and it held my interest, but I didn't hear anything I hadn't heard before, didn't learn anything that I didn't know before, and there was nothing that surprised me or shocked me. In part, it's an older person's play: an attempt to remind the younger generations of what their elders lived through and the struggles they faced and overcame. The current situation didn't come about ex nihilo. It took a lot to get to where we are now.

This is an admirable and necessary topic of discussion, but it would help the play if the characters were a little less like mouthpieces. As written, Mothers and Sons often comes off more like a liberal-conservative intergenerational debate than a work of dramatic imagination: Bigoted old bitch vs. saintly middle-aged gay man who's lived through it all vs. entitled younger gay man who takes it all for granted. (I suspect that the title is an allusion to Ivan Turgenev's novel Fathers and Sons—more accurately translated as Fathers and Children—which is about the divide between older and younger generations.)

In 1990, McNally won an Emmy for writing a PBS American Playhouse production called "Andre's Mother." Andre Gerard, a New York actor, has just died of AIDS at age 29, and his mother Katherine has come up from Dallas for the memorial service in Central Park. There she meets Andre's partner of six years, Cal Porter. I haven't seen that show, but apparently Katherine steadfastly rejects Cal's attempts to break through to her and help her accept her son's homosexuality and understand how much Cal and Andre loved each other.

McNally must have decided that there was more to be mined from this story, so he picks it up 20 years later. Cal is now a well-to-do money manager with a Central Park view apartment. He lived for eight years alone after Andre's death, but then met the 15-year-younger writer Will Ogden on the Internet, and they have been together for 11 years. Now married, they have a 7-year-old son with a hyphenated last name, Bud Ogden-Porter.

While Will and Bud are out in the park, Katherine shows up unannounced at the apartment. She has stopped in New York on her way to Rome from Dallas, and the pretext for the visit is that she is returning Andre's diary, which Cal had sent her years ago, and which neither she nor Cal has ever opened. She says she detests the word "closure"—she detests a lot of things—but that is obviously what she is here for.

The rest is a series of conversations, mostly between Katherine and Cal, that gradually reveal the events of the past, so you don't have to know anything about the television film. Most of the talk sounds realistic enough, but some of the conversational segues are so disjunctive that it would have been better to have momentary blackouts, so that one could at least imagine that the thread of dialogue has been continuous.

Some of what is said is at best schematic, at worst downright phony. Would Katherine, an educated woman on her way to Italy (from Dallas now but brought up in Westchester County), who knows how to pronounce "Tras-te-ve-re" correctly, whose only child was gay, really not know about the AIDS quilt? Would she really still insist that her son was not gay when he left home after high school to go to New York, but that someone (accusatorily, Cal) "turned him" gay? Is this a character or a caricature?

One thing this play does do inarguably well, though, is provide four good acting opportunities, and director Jessica Osbourne has cast them perfectly, eliciting wonderful performances from all four players. Colleen McClure has all the right grimaces and frigid postures that the role calls for, and is believable and touching when she finally starts to thaw. (I don't mind the fact that she's using her native British accent, but I'm sorry, no American, no matter how pretentious, says "clark" instead of "clerk.")

Kenneth Ansloan, known to Albuquerque as the founder of The Dolls drag troupe, is playing a man for the first time in many years. What took him so long? He radiates innate sweetness, integrity, honesty, and patience as the too-good-to-be-true Cal. AJ Carian, also from The Dolls, does a fine job too as Will. Nine-year-old Asher Corbin is fantastic as Bud. He's a natural. Too bad he only has a few short scenes, being most of the time sacrificed to the plot device of taking an inordinately long bath, but he's pivotal at the end. Set and props by Thane Kenny, Hannah Eisenberg, and the ubiquitous Nina Dorrance are excellent.

There is good stuff in this play, and it's well worth seeing both for itself and for the performances and directing. What's frustrating is that the script isn't even better, considering who wrote it. My favorite scenes are the first couple of minutes, which are nearly wordless, and the beautifully optimistic last couple of minutes. I was reminded of Isaiah 11:6-9 (I had to look it up; I can't quote the Bible off the top of my head): "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them." If this turns out to be Terrence McNally's swan song to the theater, and I certainly hope it isn't, there could hardly be a more hopeful way to exit.

Mothers and Sons, a play by Terrence McNally, directed by Jessica Osbourne, is being presented at the Aux Dog Theatre Nob Hill on Monte Vista NE near Central in Albuquerque. Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00, Sundays at 2:00. Through March 15, 2015. Info at or 505-254-7716.

Photo: VJ Liberatori

--Dean Yannias