Friday, June 13, 2014

Friday Dance Party: Andre's Mother and Sons

An aggressive promo campaign had
our star all over town, assuring us
that it was not an Aids play nor a gay
play, and the word "sequel" was
never uttered. Mothers and Sons is
actually all three.
The Tony Awards have claimed their first victim.  There are always some shows which are struggling at the box office but try to endure their weekly losses until Tony Time, when perhaps a big win will turn the tide and put the production into the black.  I saw Mothers and Sons during its preview period, several months ago, in a sparsely attended house.  The audience numbers never really improved, and the show has been grossing dismally for many weeks.  It received only two Tony nods, but they were biggies (Best Play and Best Actress in a Play), so I guess it's possible a win might have improved things.  The show lost both awards and announced they will be closing next week.
Mothers and Sons is Terrence McNally's 20th Broadway show, an achievement not many authors can reach, and it deserved a little better than it got.  I say "a little" because, while I was thoroughly entranced throughout its 90 minute length, it is not one of McNally's best works.
We never see the titular Andre; in each
scene, he's either just left the room
 or already dead.
In Mothers and Sons, the author revisits two characters he created way back in 1988, for a little 10-minute playlet included in an evening of Aids plays.  In 1990, he expanded that short piece into a 50 minute teleplay which was broadcast on PBS.  This was my first introduction to Andre's Mother.  The TV film starred two of my favorite actors at the time, Richard Thomas and Sada Thompson (I can prove my admiration for Sada, go here for my tribute written when she died). McNally won the Emmy for writing the script.
Richard Thomas played Andre's lover Cal, and Sada Thompson played Andre's mother, Catherine. Terrence McNally has written a sequel, of sorts, to this play in Mothers and Sons, in which Catherine suddenly appears in the New York apartment of her dead son's former lover. Fireworks ensue.
Mothers and Sons, as I mentioned, revisited the characters portrayed by Thompson and Thomas, 20 years later. 
Catherine and her dead son's former flame, Cal, have lived
20 years without communication. Andre's mother suddenly
appears at the NY apt. Cal now shares with his husband
and child.  He has moved on from Andre's death, she has

(Actually, McNally has played a little bit with the time frame of these events to enhance the dramatic scope of Mothers and Sons.  He's made other changes as well:  in Andre's Mother, Cal is a writer, but 20 years later, in Mothers and Sons, he's a financial wiz married to a writer.  McNally is famous for tinkering with his plays even after they're finished.) 
The original Cal, Richard Thomas, came to
support the new Andre's mother.

He's attempting, I think, to examine how the lives of gays have changed in the past two decades, and nobody is better qualified to discuss that issue than McNally.  But his play comes off as a debate more than a dramatically satisfying piece, with no action happening onstage, as all the really dramatic moments in the play have happened 20 years ago. 

Tyne Daly as Catherine Gerard.
Sada Thompson as Catherine Gerard,
aka Andre's mother. The resemblance
to Daly is an unusual coincidence.
Still, Tyne Daly gives a very fulfilling performance as Catherine, so it's fitting that she star in this week's Dance Party.  I'm sure it will make up for her Broadway show closing next week.
Sharon Gless and Tyne Daly as Cagney and Lacey had a lock on the Best Actress Emmy.  The show ran 7 seasons, and in 6 of those years, the award was won by one or the other.  Daly won 4 times, Gless won twice.
I've changed my opinion of Daly's work over the years, as I've aged (and as she has).  I first became aware of her, as so many of us did, in Cagney and Lacey.  She was awarded the Emmy a whopping four times for that performance, which I have to confess I found to be a bit hammy. 
For 6 consecutive years, Sharon Gless
and Tyne Daly were nominated side
by side. Gless lost several years in a
row. She finally won in 1986 and
charmed the crowd when she
proclaimed "Tyne Daly is the most
relieved person in this room."

I was much more interested in the performance her costar Sharon Gless was giving, which seemed, to me, to be much more organic and natural.  I always felt I could see Daly make each and every acting decision, while I never saw Gless "acting."  Obviously I was in the minority, since Daly was honored so often for this role; Tyne's four Emmy wins as Lacey, and Sharon's two victories as Cagney, meant the duo dominated their category for half a dozen years.
Daly surprised everybody with her
unflinching portrayal of Mama Rose.

I've seen Tyne Daly onstage several times, and those performances have changed my mind about her work.  I am now a big fan and love her interesting choices.  I saw her performance in Gypsy and can attest that, though she did not sing as well as Ethel Merman or Angela Lansbury, her predecessors in the role, she nailed it.  She won the Tony in 1989.

Only a year or so after I saw Daly scorch the stage with "Mama's Turn," she appeared with the Long Beach Civic Light Opera, in a retooled version of the Michael Bennett flop Ballroom.  She played the role Dorothy Loudon owned in the short-lived Broadway production (I wrote about seeing that musical here);  in this new incarnation, the authors attempted to return to the source material, the TV film Queen of the Stardust Ballroom.  This revision did not take off as folks wished, and did not make a hoped-for transfer to better venues.  But once again, Tyne nailed the role.

Daly was almost unrecognizable as Maria Callas, she gave a
bravura performance. Master Class indeed.
Just a few years ago, Daly appeared in the Broadway revival of Master Class, earning another Tony nod for her portrayal of Maria Callas.  I saw the production and it compared favorably to the original Broadway production, which I saw years ago
This is my friend Clinton Brandhagen as the Stagehand, opposite Tyne Daly in Master Class. He played the role in DC and went with the show to New York. Daly did the show again in London. She won over the critics in all three cities who thought she was the most unlikely Maria Callas since Dixie Carter. During her time in Master Class, she developed a special bond with the playwright Terrence McNally, who offered to create a play specifically for her.  Mothers and Sons was the result. 
I suppose Tyne didn't stand much chance of winning this year's Tony, once it was decided that Audra McDonald's portrayal of Billie Holliday was in a play rather than a musical (despite the fact she sings over a dozen songs in her show).  I'm afraid McNally didn't have much hope of winning the award for his play either, not when the competition included Bryan Cranston's Broadway debut. 
Mothers and Sons will take its final bow next week, and though I've been a little harsh about it in these pages, I am sorry it was not a success. While being fairly inert, dramatically, it serves as a very good chronicle of how substantially gay life has changed in a single generation. In 1990's Andre's Mother, gay men deserted their homes and families for cities like New York, where they could live lives anonymous from their parents. Aids decimated the community while homosexuality was still viewed by most people as a degenerate disease. In 2014, gay couples live openly and freely, with legal marriages and families with children. Still, the plague-filled past haunts the survivors. Perhaps that will be the lasting influence of Mothers and Sons.
McNally is already moving on, rewriting one of his earliest plays for an allstar cast which will include Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Megan Mullally, and Stockard Channing. 
Before his 4 Tonys,
McNally wrote this Off-
Broadway script. He is
updating it for a fall opening.

If Ms. Daly is depressed a bit about her show closing, I'm sure this week's Dance Party will make it all better.  It comes from one of those Boston Pops concerts which used to appear weekly on PBS, and our Tyne stars in it.  It's not the only time I have run across her singing a song written for a man, you haven't lived until you've heard her Tevye. (I'm not kidding, there is a recording of that oddity out there.) For today, though, here's our heroine as Prof. Harold Hill.

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