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Truth should be at the heart of every good drama piece. Truth, honesty, a bit of realism, something that makes the audience connect with the story, or the characters. Terrence McNally's Mothers and Sons playing at Northlight Theatre in Skokie attempts to reach a truthful depth, but leaves audiences shrugging with indifference wondering what exactly to take away from the play.

 

Nearly twenty years after her son’s AIDS related death, Katharine (Cindy Gold) pays an unexpected visit to the New York apartment of his former partner, Cal (Jeff Parker), who is now married to another man and has a young child. Over the course of the play Katharine and Cal exchange stories, sass, and sarcasm as they awkwardly interact and attempt to reconcile. Katharine remains judgmental and curt throughout her visit to the apartment, portraying the stereotypical conservative, old fashioned, bitter woman well. Cal, on the other hand, attempts to be gracious and overtly friendly in the face of this judgmental woman. Things heat up when we meet Cal’s partner Will (Benjamin Sprunger) and their son Bud (Ben Miller). Katharine’s disdain for the household and the situation is apparent but predictable as are the interactions with the two men. The remainder of the play is both forced and at time self-righteous and does nothing to move the needle on the many themes it attempts to tackle.

 

At the heart of the play is a conservative, judgmental woman “challenged’ to accept that her son was gay and that a same-sex couple is raising a child. This theme might have been provocative ten years earlier, but now is played out. Mothers and Sons also touches on homosexuality, AIDS, same-sex marriage, same-sex parenting, loss of a child, loss of a husband, and tries its best to address all of them within the 90 minute run time. There are so many themes that we forget that the son was the driving force that brought this woman to this apartment. He is used more as a prop, much like the journal that was hardly mentioned - though we come to find was the reason for Katharine’s visit. What’s more is the themes and how the play chooses to address them are not profound or thought provoking. Nothing is said that the audience doesn’t already know, or even what the characters don’t already know, which borders on the preachy versus clever. And these themes don’t do anything to change the characters or bring them closer together. At one point, Will’s character is so offended that he asks Katharine to leave, though she stays, shares a self-indulgent “woe-is-me” story that highlights her selfishness more, and suddenly Cal is embracing her as if he understands her after all these years. This sentiment is entirely lost on the audience. Will, the character who was ready to throw the woman out, is suddenly calm, cool, and collected. The young boy offers cookies and milk to everyone, refers to this strange woman as grandma and they all sit around and all but sing Kumbaya. And that is where the play ends. 

 

Isn’t that truth? That in a matter of a single awkward visit, a selfish, self-loathing, gay-hating conservative becomes accepting of gay marriage, same-sex parenting, and her son’s death? And that her son’s former partner who felt the cold sting and shun of this woman would be so moved as to invite her into his home and his family? It isn’t truth. It’s trite and contrived. Call me a cynic, a millennial, jaded, what have you. The truth might be that people like Katharine still exist in the world, but would someone really be swayed in such a short amount of time? Was it out of sheer loneliness on her part and pity on his end that these two characters accepted one another and will move forward? Mothers and Sons did not offer us this depth, so it’s hardly worthy of such deep analysis.

 

Truthfully, there isn’t much one could take away from Mothers and Sons. You could reach and say it was a profound dialogue about how the definition of family continually changes and evolves. You could speculate that people in mourning can come together to find comfort and support in one another. But Mothers and Sons does nothing to challenge the audience or the characters, or create a worthwhile dialogue in today’s world.

 

Directed by Steve Scott, Mothers and Sons runs through February 27th. Tickets are available at http://www.northlight.org/.

 

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