“It is not natural, this business of a parent burying a child,” Emperor Haile Selassie told Rose Kennedy at a White House reception during the awful days at the end of November 1963. It’s true So we go into Mothers and Sons, now at the Rep Studio, prepared to some degree to be sympathetic to Katharine (Darrie Lawrence).
Katharine’s son Andre died twenty years earlier of AIDS. He’d left Mom and Texas behind to go to New York to be an actor, and to be himself. Katharine, unannounced, presents herself at the Central Park West home of Cal (Harry Bouvy), Andre’s long-time companion, as they used to say. Things are tense, and they may get worse when Cal’s husband Will (Michael Keyloun) and their son Bud (Simon Desilets) come back from the park.
Katharine, the person around whom the play resolves, is at once an obvious and a complex character. Despite living in Texas, she describes herself as a Yankee because she grew up just north of New York City. Her kind of Yankee is one more closely associated with New England rather than just a Northerner – she starts at icy and moves on to taciturn, although she doesn’t stay there. She wears disapproval like she wears her fur coat, which is to say with considerable determination. What at first might be seen as homophobia eventually goes well beyond that, after we find her terribly angry that Cal has moved on with his life. Lawrence, a veteran of many Rep appearances, is sterling as the strange, strong woman.
Bouvy and Keyloun’s men try to handle Katharine gently but firmly, but it’s a hard go. Keyloun’s character’s distance from the original situation and comparative youth, 15 years younger than his spouse, gives him a little more objectivity to deal with the unexpected visitor, but she pushes that boundary, too. Bouvy has a much wider range of feelings to handle and he wears them well, bouncing around in his nervousness, almost never able to light in one place when this living ghost, or perhaps demon, from his past is in his presence.
It’s hard to resist young Simon Desilets. He’s 7, at least in the play, and an absolute natural. We wait for Katharine to erupt all over him, or melt, and neither quite happens. At one point come very close, but he keeps his poise and his warmth.
This is clearly a next-gen AIDS play, marking what life is like for a generation, and now two, that never experienced the horror first hand. The characters are almost four generations, since Cal is fifteen years older than Will, illustrating so clearly how things have changed in terms of medical treatment and society’s view. P)laywright Terrence McNally draws Katharine particularly vividly, and Michael Evan Haney painstaking direction does it justice. James Wolk’s beautiful set does indeed evoke a pre-war apartment house on Central Park West. About the only drawback is that because the audience is seated on all four sides, one is bound to miss a little of the physical acting that can be so central to a character’s inner dialogue. There’s no intermission in the ninety-minute play.
It’s hard to say how well this work will age in, say, another few decades, but for now, it’s very satisfying.
Mothers and Sons
through November 13
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis