Mothers and Sons

Ensemble Theatre, August 25

Mothers res
Anne Tenney as Katharine and Thomas Fisher as Bud. Photo: Clare Hawley.

The central figure in Terence McNally’s 2014 play is dead. He, Andre, died of AIDS 19 years before Mothers and Sons begins, yet his death continues to haunt the other characters in different ways. Cal (Jason Langley), who was Andre’s partner, cared for and lost the love of his life, but eventually moved on and married Will (Tim Draxl), who cannot help feel a twinge of jealousy about his predecessor. The one still bleeding is Andre’s mother, Katharine (Anne Tenney), for whom Andre’s death is an outrage she cannot grasp. It requires a culprit. Revenge, even.

Although Katharine’s visit to Cal reopens her own wounds, it essentially does little more than ruffle the two men’s feathers – an inherent problem in making the play work. On the page it crackles with electricity as it builds towards its emotional explosions. In Sandra Bates’s production that tension seemed diffused, partly due to overly languid pacing. The explosions still occurred and with some force, but Katharine’s desperate cry for vengeance, which would always be hard to play, was merely melodramatic.

Tenney was exceptional at times, yet her efforts to make Katharine stitched up resulted in the character having less range and colour than needed; less of a Katharine Hepburn-style acerbity. Similarly the affability with which Langley infuses Cal may lack a requisite edge to build the tension from the other side. Nonetheless these are essentially good performances in a strong play, with Draxl especially convincing in Will’s not-my-problem nirvana, which is crowned by the couple’s six-year-old son (a slightly distracted Thomas Fisher).

Rodney Fisher’s set seems oddly drab given the many references to the stylishness of couple’s Manhattan apartment. (Will’s allusion to the need for a makeover is probably more owner modesty than truth.) The marital bliss should be buffed to such a high gloss that it compounds the injustice Katharine feels amid her insupportable loss and loneliness, and these, in turn, should be more moving than they currently are.

Until September 27.