The currents of life move gently through Shakespeare & Company's 'Mothers and Sons'

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LENOX — Terrence McNally has set his play, "Mothers and Sons," in a well-appointed apartment on Central Park West, on a chilly winter day; the shortest day iof the year, he says in his script.

But for Katharine Gerard, the pivotal figure in this drama of reckoning and possible reconciliation, it may as well be the longest day of the year.

As played by Annette Miller in director James Warwick's delicately crafted, richly insightful, compassionately played production at Shakespeare & Company's Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, she is a woman on a mission. She has arrived, suddenly and without advance warning at the home of her late son Andre's partner of six years, Cal Porter (Bill Mootos in an exquisitely shaped performance that truly eliminates the line between actor and character), a one-time actor (like Andre), now a successful money manager. As the lights come up, Katharine and Cal are standing at the Central Park-facing window of the living room in an apartment Cal now shares with his husband, Will Ogden (a thoroughly convincing and winning David Gow), with whom he has a son from Will's sperm and carried to term by a mutual lesbian friend.

It may be biting cold outside but Katharine (a somewhat uneven, fitful performance by Miller) clearly has brought the chill in with her. She has not yet taken off her coat. She is eager to leave before Will and their six-year-old son, Bud (played at the performance I attended by an an engaging Hayden Hoffman), return from the park.

She is bringing with her, it turns out, a journal written by her son, which Cal has sent to her home in Dallas. Neither of them has read it but Katharine, filled with guilt, anger, resentment, bitterness, isolation from the hand life has dealt her - an unhappy marriage to a man who has only recently died of lung cancer; a son who deserted her at the age of 18 and headed for New York — has no use for it and has come to return it to Cal.

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She holds Cal responsible for her separation from Andre, his gay lifestyle, his death of AIDS. She deeply resents the fact that Cal has moved on and made a new life for himself —complete with husband, child and successful career. But all that moving on has not been easy for Cal. At an unguarded moment, he acknowledges to Katharine, in front of Will, that there has hardly been a moment in the nearly nine years since Andre's death that Andre hasn't been on his mind. And it is clear from two intense, hushed exchanges between Cal and Will that there are unresolved issues between them, not the least of them Andre, even though Cal's love for Will is deep and strong.

While he and Katharine are going through a box of photographs and mementos of Andre, Mootos' Cal catches, in controlled but firm, hard tones, his feelings of resentment and helplessness during the height of the AIDS epidemic. "I wanted to kill the world when Andre was diagnosed but I took care of him instead .. and told him I loved him even when he was ashamed of what this disease had done to him," Cal says. "Andre had slept with someone other than me but I had to forgive him."

Marriage wasn't a possibility. "We didn't deserve the dignity of marriage," Cal says with some bitterness. "Maybe that's why AIDS happened."

Cal has survived, learned to stand tall, make a new life with Will ("I honestly think Andre sent Will to me," Cal says to Katharine). Katharine, meanwhile, has risen from working-class stock to a life of affluence and entitlement. She got what she wanted with the man she wanted and paid a steep price. Now, she is bitter, confused, fearful. "I don't know what I'm supposed to think or feel anymore," an affecting Katharine, in a display of rare honesty, poignantly tells Cal from her place of exposure. "I'm angry at just about almost everything," she says. "I'm a widow. My only child predeceased me. No grandchildren. I don't like most people and I think it's a pretty safe assumption most people don't like me."

For all his own anger, McNally is something of an optimist; hopeful. As a result his writing and plotting leads him down some paths that, in lesser hands, would play like mawkish, sentimental soap opera. But there is nothing sentimental, mawkish or melodramatic here. The touchstone of this production is its uncanny sense of unassuming authenticity that transcends stage artifice and convention even in a performance from Ms. Miller that borders on actorly. The currents and undercurrents between and among McNally's characters are gentle, quiet; present. Life.

Jeffrey Borak can be reached at 413-496-6212 or


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