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Mothers and Sons
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Terrence McNally - Theatre as Connection
by Raymond-Jean Frontaine
The career of four-time Tony Award winning playwright, Terrence McNally, is remarkable for both the range of its accomplishments and the depth of its contradictions. First, he has resisted identifying with any particular cultural scene. Initially active in the burgeoning Off-Broadway theater movement in the 1960s, McNally is one of the few playwrights of his generation to have successfully made the transition to Broadway, and, in the process, passed from avante garde to mainstream acclaim. The confusion that critics had typing him early in his career is suggested by the fact that his first play, And Things That Go Bump in the Night, which was produced on Broadway in 1965, was for many years included in an influential anthology of Off-Broadway plays. Yet in the late 1990s and 2000s, as Broadway productions became too top-heavy for their own good, he made a transition again, this time with ease to regional theaters, where his plays were initially produced before transferring to New York, often to a non- Broadway stage in the midtown theater district. Well might McNally sing, like Carlotta in Stephen Sondheim's Follies, "I've seen it all and, my dear, I'm still here."
Second, McNally has seen--or, more properly, done--it all in terms of his dramaturgy as well. Initially celebrated as the author of dark, absurdist social satires and political protest plays, he made the transition gradually to a period of more broadly farcical comedy. However, following the emergence of the AIDS epidemic in the mid- 1980s, his plays became increasingly more lyrical meditations upon the causes of human isolation, the underlying sources of hatred and prejudice, and the need for interpersonal connection. Yet since the premiere of Master Class in 1995, his plays have been concerned with the nature of aesthetic experience and the human need for art, most prominently opera and theater. His range has been such that there is no such thing as a characteristically "McNally play" as there is a distinctively Shavian or Pinteresque mode of drama.
Third, as a playwright who is deeply engaged by music, McNally has straddled the divide between music and theater circles. He has written the book for multiple musicals, as well as the libretto for several operas. He may be the only prominent American playwright whose actual voice is more familiar to opera fans than to theatergoers, inasmuch as for nearly thirty years (1979-2008) he was a member of the Texaco Opera Quiz panel that fielded questions during the weekly Live from the Met radio broadcasts.
Finally, and, perhaps most paradoxically, McNally is a gay man who has never been in the closet; who introduced self-respecting gay characters in his plays as early as 1964; who authored several of the most important American plays produced in response to the AIDS pandemic; who has been a tireless speaker on behalf of gay civil rights issues; and whose civil unions with, and/or marriages to, Gary Bonasorte and (following the latter's death) Tom Kirdahy have attracted national notice. Yet to the dismay of many gay activists, he declines to be identified as a "gay playwright." Despite that refusal, he is recognized as one of the most important playwrights of his generation, if not the most accomplished American gay playwright since Tennessee Williams
Interview with Terrence McNally
The following is a reprinted excerpt of an interview with playwright Terrence McNally
conducted by Jerry Portwood for OUT Magazine (March 25, 2014).
The message that remains at the core of most of playwright Terrence McNally's work is that people must continue to change and evolve so that society may survive. McNally says he wanted to write about this "new world we live in" after a stage revival of his Emmy-winning 1990 teleplay, Andre's Mother was proposed and he realized how radically the world had changed within his lifetime.
So does it matter if we don't know the play Andre's Mother? Have never seen it?
It doesn't matter at all. It's not a sequel to Andre's Mother. Jed [Bernstein] asked me if he could do Andre's Mother with Tyne [at Bucks County Playhouse]. She's a great actress, and they were going to do the teleplay, which won an Emmy when it was televised on PBS.
But when I re-read it, I realized so much has happened in the past 25 years. Why re-visit the past when I had the opportunity to write a new play for a great actress? I jumped at it. Andre's mother is a character in both plays but the similarity begins and ends there. In the original, she is silent. Now she has a lot to say for herself. It's the same confrontation, only 25 years later. The world has changed.
Tell me about the title. It made me recall D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers. What is it about mothers and sons that is so powerful?
It seemed to be the right title for it. I was aware of the other one [by Lawrence], but this sounds more primordial, about the basic need men have for their mothers. Cal never knew his mother and he wanted Katharine to hold him that day at his lover's memorial service. She's a mother, and she can't help but blame this stranger for taking her son Andre from her. If her son hadn't met Cal, she thinks he would have been straight. He definitely would be alive.
You're known for writing moving narratives that focused on the destruction of AIDS on friends and families. How have things changed since those days? There seems to be more optimism in this play.
AIDS certainly transformed the lives of all Americans but especially gay men and women. Life keeps evolving. We have to change. Life deals us some really bad things, such as AIDS, but we emerge different people, stronger than before. That's one thing that's great about the way we live our lives. The little boy in the play, too, is going to change the world. He already has by being the son of two legally married men. We see that the world is going to go on without us. People, a thousand years from now, they will have evolved into a whole other order.
Are you surprised by all the things that happened last year and continue to happen for marriage equality?
My play Some Men was reviewed as a "what if" play. "What if" men will be able to be married one day? And Some Men isn't even 10 years old! Marriage equality was defeated so roundly in Albany that year, I thought, Gee, I better write about it. Actually, I went to Vermont first and entered into a civil union with the man who is now my husband. Then I wrote Some Men, which had its world premiere at the Philadelphia Theatre Company. But, no, I'm not surprised, I'm happy that there's been such incredible change in our lives, for all of us.
When I came to New York at 17, I went to Columbia and if you were gay, you kept it to yourself. There were other gay students, but most of the gay men I knew were living in the Village. You'd go down these dark little streets to dark little bars, often in basements, all of them fire traps. We are such a long way from those dark dangerous days. It's hard to believe.
But the Supreme Court decision striking down DOMA is barely a year old. The real impact hasn't really sunk into the national consciousness yet. There have been enormous changes about how people thought and viewed gay relationships for hundreds and hundreds of years. It's not going to change overnight.
I wonder, is this play a revenge play or ultimately about forgiveness?
Katharine does want revenge, as she says at one point in the play. But I think it's about forgiveness and trying to understand. I wanted to know what makes a Katharine a Katharine. It's about generations and family. It was more challenging for me to write a character like Will who is a very young man than Cal or Katharine who are both closer to me in age and experience.
There are four generations in this play, and the youngest, Bud, accepts Katharine right away. He hasn't been taught, as the son of two gay men, you're not supposed to like people like her. I do think there's healing and forgiveness in this play. There was for me in writing it. I can't imagine that there's not at least one character that someone isn't going to identify with.
I know you got married, so you basically think the marriage equality fight is the most important thing at the moment?
When you're married, that gives you an equality, which is also a responsibility; you really have to take your full place in the world and in our own communities. You can't hide out anymore. Before we thought, We're gay and we don't have to be interested in who's going to be school superintendent. And now, there's no excuse not to be in the middle of all these fights. It's leveled the playing field, this marriage right, that's for sure. Much more than anything else has. Of course homophobia still exists. We still have racism. A stroke of the legislative pen does not do away with prejudices. But there's no legislation that denies the rights of people with color. You have to change the laws first. That's paramount. Same with gay men and women. You don't have to like us but you do have to give us our rights, the same as yours.
But there's still racism. I grew up in a South with separate drinking fountains. It's hard to remember such a time. So much has changed in the 75 years that I've been conscious. It's all wonderful, these changes. We need more.
CINDY GOLD (Katharine Gerard) is thrilled to be back at Northlight after Awake and Sing!, Pride and Prejudice and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Recent area work includes A Kid Like Jake (About Face), In the Garden (Lookingglass) and Measure for Measure (Goodman). She played Gertrude Stein in Loving Repeating (Joseph Jefferson Award - Best Actress in a Musical). Other credits: Showboat (Lyric Opera, Chicago and Washington, D.C. National Opera at the Kennedy Center), Love, Loss and What I Wore (Broadway in Chicago) and Moises Kaufman's 33 Variations workshop (About Face and Tectonic Theatre). Cindy appeared in The Music Man (Glimmerglass Opera Company) both in New York and at the Royal Opera House in Muscat, Oman. TV appearances include Empire and Chicago Fire. She is a Professor of Acting at Northwestern University Department of Theatre.
BEN MILLER (Bud Ogden-Porter) is excited to make his Northlight debut in Mothers and Sons. You may have seen Ben in area productions of Oliver!, Tarzan, Seussical, Once Upon a Mattress or Peter Pan. He has also appeared in several commercials and films. Ben trains at The Performer's School in Highwood. He is currently in fourth grade and he loves to read books, make videos and play "spies" outside with his friends. Ben would like to thank his family for their love and support and a special thanks to Stacey Flaster, George Keating, Bob Silton and Roxann Ferguson for helping him prepare for this production.
JEFF PARKER (Cal Porter) returns to Northlight where he most recently appeared in Grey Gardens. Recent Chicago credits: Objects in the Mirror (Goodman), The Secret Garden (Court), Samsara (Victory Gardens) and Isaac's Eye (Writers). Other Chicago credits include: Camino Real, Candide, Turn of the Century and Bounce (Goodman); The Brother/Sister Plays (Jeff Award - Best Ensemble) and Venus (Steppenwolf); Cymbeline, As You Like It and The Three Musketeers (Chicago Shakespeare); Sweet Charity and Days Like Today (Writers); and Nine (Jeff Nomination - Best Actor in a Musical, Porchlight). Off-Broadway and regional credits: Candide (Huntington), My Fair Lady (Asolo Repertory), 1776 (A.C.T.), Boy Gets Girl (Manhattan Theatre Club), The American in Me (Magic) and Winesburg, Ohio (Kansas City Repertory). Television and film credits: Chicago P.D., Love is a Four Letter Word, Prison Break and Early Edition. Jeff holds a B.F.A. in Acting from the University of Southern California. jeffparkeractor.tumblr.com
BENJAMIN SPRUNGER (Will Ogden) is thrilled to be making his Northlight debut with Mothers and Sons. Other theatre credits include: About Face (seven productions including Take Me Out, The Homosexuals and The Pride), 16th Street, Goodman, TimeLine, House, Sankofa, LiveWire, Steppenwolf, Strawdog, Griffin (2011 Jeff nomination, Actor in a Principal Role - Musical), Steep, Haven, CityLit, Bailiwick, Mark Taper Forum and Pasadena Playhouse. Television credits: Chicago Fire, Will & Grace and Passions. Ben would like to thank his fiancé, Erik.
STEVE SCOTT (Director) returns for his third production at Northlight, having directed Souvenir and Black Pearl Sings!. He is the Producer at Goodman, where he has overseen over 200 productions, and is also a member of Goodman's Artistic Collective. He has directed productions at a wide variety of Chicago theaters, including Goodman, Shattered Globe, Silk Road, Next, Porchlight, Red Orchid, Theatre Wit, Theatre at the Center, Organic Touchstone, Lifeline, Lyric Opera Center for American Artists, Redtwist and Eclipse, where he is a company member. He is on the faculty at the Theatre Conservatory at the College of Performing Arts of Roosevelt University and has served on panels for the National Endowment for the Arts, the Illinois Arts Council, Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs and the Philadelphia Theatre Initiative/PEW Charitable Trust. He is an artistic associate of the Collaboraction and Chicago Dramatists companies and serves on the board of Season of Concern. Mr. Scott has received six Jeff nominations, an After Dark Award, Eclipse Theatre's Corona Award and the Award of Honor from the Illinois Theatre Association.
JACK MAGAW (Scenic Design) most recently designed The Mousetrap and Chapatti at Northlight. Other Off-Broadway, Chicago and regional design credits include Rapture Blister Burn (Goodman); The Diary of Anne Frank (Writers); The Who and the What (Lincoln Center and La Jolla Playhouse); The Mousetrap (Milwaukee Repertory); Amadeus, Charley's Aunt and South Pacific (Utah Shakespeare Festival); Lend Me a Tenor and Outside Mullingar (Peninsula Players); Hank Williams: Lost Highway (Clarence Brown); Hair: Retrospection (Kansas City Repertory); and Gem of the Ocean (Court). Upcoming projects include Long Day's Journey into Night (Court) and The Flick (Steppenwolf). Jack lives in Chicago and teaches design at The Theatre School at DePaul University. www.jackmagaw.com
RACHEL LAMBERT (Costume Design) is delighted be working at Northlight for the first time. Her Chicago design credits include: Twist Your Dickens (Second City/Goodman); Life of Galileo, Travesties and Northanger Abbey (Jeff nominations - Remy Bumppo); The Lisbon Traviata, A Perfect Ganesh, Intimate Apparel (Jeff Nomination), Woman in Mind, Bedroom Farce, Ah, Wilderness! and After the Fall (Eclipse); The Winter's Tale, Love, Loss and What I Wore, Cymbeline, Merchant of Venice and Romeo & Juliet (Jeff nomination - First Folio); The Magic Flute and Die Fledermaus (DePaul School of Music); The Drowning Girls (Signal Ensemble); American Myth (American Blues). Regionally she has designed The Mystery of Irma Vep and Lend Me a Tenor with Peninsula Players.
HEATHER GILBERT (Lighting Design) Ms. Gilbert's lighting designs have been seen on many Chicago stages including You Can't Take It With You at Northlight as well as productions at Hypocrites, Goodman, Court, Steppenwolf, Steep, Victory Gardens, Remy Bumppo, Chicago Children's Theatre, Writers, Timeline, About Face and countless storefronts all over the city. Regional credits include Oregon Shakespeare, American Repertory, Kansas City Repertory, Milwaukee Repertory, Huntington, Williamstown, Alley, Berkeley Repertory and Actors Theatre of Louisville. International credits include Almeida in London and Singapore Repertory. Heather was a recipient of the NEA/TCG Career Development Grant and the 3Arts Award. Heather serves as the Head of Lighting Design at Columbia College Chicago and received her MFA at the Theatre School at DePaul. She is a member of The Hypocrites community.
CHRISTOPHER KRIZ (Original Music & Sound Design) is an award-winning composer and sound designer. Previous Northlight designs include 4000 Miles, The Whipping Man, Black Pearl Sings! and Eclipsed. In Chicago, Kriz has designed for Goodman, Steppenwolf, Court, Writers, Victory Gardens, TimeLine, Theatre Wit, Rivendell and many others. Upcoming and recent credits include Carlyle (Goodman), Anna Christie (Steppenwolf), Gem of the Ocean (Court), Sucker Punch (Victory Gardens), Sticky Traps (Kansas City Repertory), Sunset Baby (Timeline), Fallen Angels (Remy Bumppo) and Good For Otto (Gift). Recently, Lifeline Theatre produced Kriz's new musical Soon I Will Be Invincible. For his work in theatre, Kriz has been honored with 11 Joseph Jefferson Nominations and 2 Awards, most recently nominated for Cicada (Route 66) and Mill Fire (Shattered Globe). Kriz is a proud member of United Scenic Artists 829. To hear more of his work, please visit www.christopherkriz.com.
RITA VREELAND (Production Stage Manager) continues her 9th season at Northlight, where she has been fortunate to be the stage manager for 23 productions as well as two trips to Galway. Recent credits elsewhere in the Chicagoland area include the annual Christmas Schooner (Mercury); Little Shop of Horrors and many other productions at Theatre at the Center; and the world premieres of Funnyman (Northlight), A Twist of Water (Route 66), El Nogalar (Goodman) and We Are Proud to Present... (Victory Gardens). In addition to stage management, Rita was the set designer at Harold Washington College from 2001-2012 and is a member of the Route 66 Theatre Company in Chicago. She is the proud wife of actor Tom Hickey and mom to three-year-old Charlie. Thank you for supporting live theatre.
TERRENCE MCNALLY (Playwright) was awarded the Dramatists Guild Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011. He is the winner of Tony Awards for his plays Love! Valour! Compassion! and Master Class and his books for the musicals Ragtime and Kiss of the Spiderwoman. His other plays include Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, Corpus Christi, A Perfect Ganesh, The Ritz and The Lisbon Traviata. He has written the books for the musicals The Full Monty, A Man of No Importance, The Visit and The Rink. He won an Emmy Award for Best Drama with his teleplay Andre's Mother. He wrote the screenplays for Frankie and Johnny, Love! Valour! Compassion! and The Ritz. He wrote the libretto for the opera Dead Man Walking with music by Jake Heggie. Among his many awards are a Citation from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best New Play, four Drama Desk Awards, three Hull-Warriner Best Play Awards from the Dramatists Guild, two Obies, two Lortel Awards and two Guggenheim Fellowships.
Production photos by Michael Brosilow below, or view rehearsal and set construction and opening night photos.
Photo GalleryClick on any image to start the slideshow
Mothers and Sons
Haunting Mothers and Sons asks, how long do we mourn before moving on?
By CHRIS JONES
I thought this an important play when I first saw it on Broadway in 2014 (it starred Tyne Daly), in part because I remember seeing a couple of mothers like Katherine at funerals, in part because it reminds us what some (hardly all) family members did to those who died of AIDS, but mostly because it offers a chance to think about guilt, mourning and moving on, while we're in the hands of one of America's most compassionate and yet unstinting playwrights.
At one point, Cal, who is played with great sincerity by Parker, wonders aloud whether moving on to a new partner means he did not love Katherine's son enough. It's a common worry of the widowed, although the play is, I think, arguing that he has no choice, given how time moves so inexorably forward, leaving some of us behind.
Parker also nails the sheer horror of your past walking right through your front door, dredging up all that complexity. Gold's performance is an exceptionally sincere and honest piece of acting that moved me greatly in some moments. And Sprunger, playing that new man in Cal's life, has just the right lack of compassion for that which he was just young enough to miss.
You'll sense I'm fond of this emotional play, and you would be right. It is honest, fair and moving, and entirely applicable to any number of other circumstances in which we find ourselves.
Mothers and Sons at Northlight Theatre: Theater review
Terrence McNally again considers the AIDS crisis from the perspective of those left behind.
4 STARS, CRITIC'S PICK
By KRIS VIRE
McNally has often been at his best as a chronicler of current gay life (or a certain white, upper-middle-class or at least aspirational strain of it, anyway) in plays like Love! Valour! Compassion!. Revisiting the characters of Andre's Mother (which he expanded into an Emmy-winning episode of PBS's American Playhouse in 1990) allows him the opportunity to incisively comment on those aspects of the present moment—marriage equality, gay parenting, HIV as a manageable disease—that no one was even considering as possibilities 20 years ago.
But it also allows him to give some room for dignity, even in opposition, to the still unenlightened. Gold's Katharine is neither sympathetic nor particularly repentant for her rejection of her son's relationship and reality. But McNally, for the most part, resists encouraging us to jeer her, and Gold's nuanced performance lets us see hints of the isolation and loneliness beneath Katharine's standoffish demeanor. In Steve Scott's sensitive, heartfelt production, we even start to root for her to come around.
Review: Mothers and Sons/Northlight Theatre
By AARON HUNT
Northlight has assembled a formidable team to live this story. Director Steve Scott guides actors Cindy Gold (Katharine), Jeff Parker (Cal), Benjamin Sprunger (his husband Will) and Ben Miller (their young son, Bud) through McNally’s beautifully crafted play. The anxiety ratchets up before being expertly released through humor or another diversion only to begin the climb to the next dramatic peak, each mountain of hurt taller than the next until the unforgiving apex.
This production left me gasping as I fell headlong into Gold’s needful, vacuum-sealed fury, Parker’s self-deluded graciousness, Sprunger’s disconnected entitlement and Miller’s open-hearted acceptance, doctoring the world with an Oreo cookie and milk.
McNally is right to teach history. History keeps repeating. Cal is right to shout down Katharine’s “Children don’t fix anything!” with “This one does!” Be brave enough to see this play.
Terrence McNally opens up about Mothers and Sons
By CHRIS JONES
Terrence McNally, the author of such celebrated works of drama as Love! Valour! Compassion!, Master Class and Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, and the bookwriter of such musicals as Ragtime, The Full Monty and Kiss of the Spider Woman, is talking about mothers and sons.
"Mother and son really is the most direct flow of unconditional love between two people," he says, over the phone. "I can never understand why mothers cannot always just love their children."
McNally is speaking about a particular moment in American history — the AIDS crisis, at its peak around a quarter of a century ago. At the time, there were many mothers (and fathers) angry with their gay children and alienated from them. The separation was often manifest at the funerals of sons who never reached middle age. Anyone who was around at the time, and who went to too many of them, can recall glimpses of parents sitting awkwardly in the pews, unsure about how to process their grief, unable to join in the celebration of their son's life. That is assuming the parents were there at the funeral.
"My own mother was dead by the time I wrote this play, and I'm not much of an autobiographical writer," McNally said. "But this play certainly is to some extent my working out my relationship with my own mother. After it opened in New York, a number of young gay people said to me things like 'we've no idea what you had to live through.' I mean, this was not World War II. This was not 100 years ago. But still they do not know. I urgently wanted to express what has happened in these past 25 years for gay men and women, and how much we've pushed under the rug without wanting to have a conversation about. The writing felt cathartic."
Northlight's Mothers and Sons a story of family, grief
By MYRNA PETLICKI
Grieving has no timeline. Katharine Gerard's son Andre may have died of AIDS nearly 20 years ago but her wounds are still raw in Terrence McNally's intriguing Mothers and Sons opening in previews Jan. 22 at Northlight Theatre.
Skokie resident Cindy Gold plays Katharine, who has come from her home in Texas to New York to visit Cal Porter (Jeff Parker), her late son's lover. Why has she come to see Cal, even though they have had no contact since Andre's funeral? What does she hope to achieve by the visit? It's a bit of a mystery, even to Katharine.
"Her husband just died. Now she's really alone," Gold said. "She has no relatives. I'm imagining she has no friends. Her world has become very small. She's very angry still."
The actor surmised that Katharine likely visited New York many times before without descending on Cal's apartment. "She probably got her courage up," Gold said, adding, "It's curiosity more than anything."
WINDY CITY TIMES
By SCOTT C. MORGAN
"Homophobia and racism don't die because of civil rights and marriage equality," [Mothers and Sons author Terrence] McNally said. "I think the play is more relevant because you realize that homophobia is a huge subject."
Homophobia rears its ugly head in Mothers and Sons, which is a sequel of sorts to McNally's 1990 PBS drama Andre's Mother. The earlier Emmy Award-winning TV movie focused on a Texas mother named Katharine whose son has passed away from complications of AIDS. Katharine attends a memorial service for her son in New York, and confronts Andre's surviving lover, Cal, in the process.
For Mothers and Sons, Katharine (Cindy Gold) and Cal (Jeff Parker) meet again more than two decades later in his upscale New York apartment. Yet now Katharine must also contend with Cal's family that includes his younger husband, Will Ogden (Benjamin Sprunger), and their son, Bud (Ben Miller).
"Mothers and Sons is looking at where we are today with AIDS as very much the unspoken subject of the play," McNally said. "[AIDS] did decimate a generation of people and there's a legacy and residue and many scars left."
The best things to do in Chicago this month | January - Theater - Dramas
By CATEY SULLIVAN
CRITIC'S PICK - The regional premiere of a work by playwright Terrence McNally (Master Class, Kiss of the Spider Woman) is always reason for anticipation. With director Steve Scott at the helm, doubly so. Scott takes on the story of a mother who lost a son to AIDS and meets up with her son’s former partner years afterward.
This guide is suitable for audience members of all ages. Included in the Mothers and Sons guide:
- A profile of and excerpts from an interview with the playwright
- A detailed synopsis
- Character descriptions
- An extensive timeline of LGBTQ+ rights
- A history of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s
- Important milestones in HIV
- Discussion questions