“Mothers and Sons” tugs at the heartstrings

“Mothers and Sons” tugs at the heartstrings

The relationship between mothers and sons can be a difficult one – simple at first, perhaps, but as the boy grows up and becomes his own person, fraught with the feeling of abandonment (on both sides) and disappointment (again, on both sides.) Terrence McNally’s Mothers and Sons, directed by James Warwick at Shakespeare & Company, takes a look at this relationship in a heartbreaking way.

Katharine (Annette Miller) has unexpectedly stopped in to visit Will (David Gow) in his Manhattan apartment; he was her son Andre’s partner in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, until Andre died of AIDS-related illness. The two haven’t seen one another since Andre’s memorial and their relationship is strained; it’s clear that Katharine didn’t approve of Andre’s lifestyle and holds Will at least partly responsible for her son’s death. When Cal (Bill Mootos), Will’s husband, comes home with their son Bud (played in the production I saw by Hayden Hoffman, but the role is doubly cast with Evan Miller), the afternoon becomes even more emotional – Cal feels he will never quite live up to the ghost of Andre and is more outspoken about Katharine’s homophobia, while Katharine feels Will has much-too-easily replaced Andre with a new family.

Patrick Brennan’s set is beautiful – understated and very classy, very much an apartment that might overlook Central Park, with gorgeous depth to the stage and a perfect lived-in look: Bud’s toys are neatly put away, but everywhere, showing the couple’s devotion to their son, and the artwork on the walls draws the eye in a mesmerizing way.

Warwick was given such a strong script to work with, and add these phenomenal actors and you’ve got a production to remember. Miller’s work is stunning; she’s a product of her generation, and although what she says and does is hard to swallow, it’s impossible to hate her: her love for her son and his loss has utterly crippled her emotionally, and she lashes out as one deeply wounded will. She’s deeply relatable in parts – who hasn’t worried about becoming obsolete in their old age, or being forgotten? Who hasn’t beaten themselves up for something said that ended up driving away someone they loved?

The rest of the cast mainly orbits around Miller as a function of the script, but they are all fine actors. Gow carries off a difficult role with aplomb; he’s the peacemaker, and it takes a lot for him to finally explode, but when he does speak his mind it’s a revelation. Mootos is a firebrand: active, lively and very easy to like, and possibly the most relatable for the younger members of the audience who have no patience for an older generation’s prejudice. And young Hoffman was a treat, bright-eyed and joyful.

This is a thoughtful show, and one that tugs at the heartstrings; Katharine will never be able to mend her relationship with her son, Will will always live with that loss in his heart. It’s beautifully produced, directed and acted, and it speaks to something in all of us.

“Mothers and Sons”; Shakespeare & Company, 70 Kemble St., Lenox, MA; through September 9; $65-$18.75; Run time: 90 minutes; (413) 637-3353;

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