In this 90-minute, one-act production, Daly plays Katherine Gerard, a mother whose son died, much too young, of AIDS several years ago. She pays a surprise visit to her son's ex-partner, Cal, who is now married to a young writer named Will and is raising a six-year-old son, Bud. During the visit, she is forced to come to terms with how much society has changed without her, and with the happy life her son might have been able to enjoy if he had lived.
Followers of Mr. McNally's work (Lips Together, Teeth Apart, Love! Valor! Compassion!, Master Class) will note that Katherine and Will met in another of McNally's plays, Andre's Mother, when they attend the memorial of Andre, Katherine's son and, at the time, Cal's lover. Mothers and Sons brings these two characters together again in a production that feels brittle and heated, thanks largely in part to the unabashed emotional fury in McNally's writing. There is preachiness, there is posturing, but above all there is passion in McNally's fine script. It is peeking out from picture frames and looming in Katherine and Cal's memory of Andre.
Frederick Weller , as Cal, is congenial but firm - allowing Katherine to stay; realizing that this is his chance to be honest with her, to make her understand what he and Andre had together (the good and the bad), and to see that love has brought him a happiness he never knew could exist after Andre's death.
As Will, Cal's lover, Bobby Steggert brings a playful swing to the role. He and Grayson Taylor, who plays their son, serve as grounding forces and counterpoints to Katherine and Cal, giving us a breather from Daly's force and Weller's strategic niceties. Just as important, they are in-your-face examples of family, camaraderie, and love - a trio of feelings Daly's character has never felt comfortable with.
With Daly click-clacking around stage in angry, matronly heels delivering pistol-whip lines, it's a wonder Weller as Cal and Steggert as his husband can keep up. Although they can't outshine her, they react with grace and comfort. They are staunch in their softness - exactly what is needed.
The scenic design by John Lee Beatty, the costume design by Jess Goldstein, and the lighting design by Jeff Croiter are casually sumptuous and masculine; sweaters and sofas in soft but strong browns, blues, and greys live comfortably with the lazy golden lighting of the successful upper-middle class in the large, open apartment.
Daly inhabits Katherine with such emotional snap that everything seems electric around her; her words and sentences like a static-shock on a cold, winter's day - surprising and irritating. Her voice, her movements, her dialogue isolate her further and further from the warm lights of the stage, and - although we are left with compassion and tears rising in our throats, it isn't crystal clear how much of a lesson she has learned with this visit to Cal and Will. A sweet, sentimental note rings at the production's end, but Katherine is a gong all her own, and we don't know if she'll allow the world to seep in through her metallic cracks.