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<i>Stargayzing</i> Theater Diary: Terrance McNally’s <i>Mothers and Sons</i>

Stargayzing Theater Diary: Terrance McNally’s Mothers and Sons

Brian Steggert, Frederick Weller
Brian Steggert and Frederick Weller.  Photo by Joan Marcus for the Daily News

“First it will be a chapter in a history book, then a paragraph, then a footnote. … It’s already started to happen. I can feel it happening. All the raw edges of pain dulled, deadened, drained away.”


A few weeks back my friend Sherry Eaker of took me to see the latest Terrance McNally play Mothers and Sons, starring the great Tyne Daly.  Through the years I have enjoyed Mr. McNally’s plays so much, as he chronicled the lives and loves of his generation of gay men and contributed so much to both our gay and popular (and popular gay) culture.

In the end, Terrance McNally’s Mothers and Sons didn’t work that well for me, but it is a noble effort that occasionally soars.  This being McNally, there are passages (such as the one I highlighted above), that are searing in their beauty.  As a friend pointed out, “McNally is stuck in his good intentions—trying to write about contemporary gay life when he doesn’t have the mindset for it, and can only write through his own generational perspective.”  I think that this is true not just for McNally but for everyone.  All we have at our disposal is our own view of the world and the best we can do is to always be listening, questioning, and engaging in the conversation.

In that sense, Mothers and Sons, though set in today, feels like a period piece.  There is nothing wrong with that, per se, but the play has other, bigger problems (an annoying performance by a kid, for one, and the matter of Tyne Daly’s character who, at least for me, wasn’t as sympathetic as Mr. McNally may have wanted her to be).  Still, remembering the plague of the 1980s is important business and so vital to the identies of so many people, like myself, who bear its scars.  It will be interesting to see how the forthcoming Ryan Murphy adaptation of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart fares.  Personally, I want younger gay men to understand what happened.  I want them to cultivate empathy for those of us who came before them and to understand how the AIDS crisis and the battles we fought made it possible for them to enjoy the present, relatively enlightened contemporary experience of being gay.  In these wildly narcissistic “tell us what YOU think” times, appreciation for whom we are connected and indebted to may, alas, be asking too much.

Though it may be inevitable, nobody wants to become a footnote and the only way around that is to keep the story alive.  Though Terrance McNally’s play has many problems, its intentions are beyond reproach.

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