Little Theatre of Virginia Beach presents a dual performance of two one acts, Andre’s Mother and Mothers and Sons by Terrence McNally, as one combined piece.
The production is presented without intermission and the night that I attended ran a little under two hours. A beautifully written piece of theatre is accompanied by some stellar performances by the cast, but I feel like it lacked the understanding of the true meaning and point of the show.
Andre’s Mother was originally written in an anthology titled Urban Bright that was produced in 1988 and was later turned into a film that was broadcast on a PBS program titled American Playhouse in 1990. Mothers and Sons is the sequel to Andre’s Mother and is set twenty years later. Two of the original characters from Andre’s Mother are the focus of Mothers and Sons. Andre Gerard passed away twenty years ago from AIDS, his mother Katharine Gerard shows up at the home of Cal Porter, Andre’s former partner, who is married and has a child of his own. The interaction between Katharine and Cal is strained as it becomes apparent that Katharine has been unable to move past the passing of Andre and still has some resentment toward Cal. When Will, Cal’s husband and their son Bud come into the picture the tension rises as we learn how Will feels about living in the shadow of Andre and the surprise visit by Katharine. The play analyzes loss, letting go of the past and the tragic history of the AIDS epidemic on the homosexual community.
LTVB’s production is directed by Frank McCaffery. This is where the production hits its biggest hurdle. Starting with his director’s note, Mr. McCaffery seems to miss the history that is contained within the script. His first paragraph talks about “Magic” Johnson announcing he is HIV positive which has nothing to do with the script or the production. The show is about the loss of life from the AIDS epidemic and how that impacted the world and the LGBT community. The history of the HIV and AIDS epidemic on the LGBT community seems to be glossed over for lack of understanding; more than anything else. This production spans the exact time frame when the AIDS epidemic was the most prevalent within the community to now. Touching on how someone still deal with the loss of those in their lives. This history was missing in the show and appeared to be not of importance. As a director, this was an oversight that impacted the production and would have helped to elevate the production to the next level instead of hindering it.
With such a strong script, you need strong performances to carry the vehicle. Despite the lack of understanding of the history behind the script, this production has some strong performances that help to move the show along. Portraying Katharine Gerard, MaryLou Mahlman is near perfection. The gamut of dynamic emotions that she portrays is effortless and makes all the hard work that she is doing on the stage look easy. From the beginning to the end, Ms. Mahlman is absolutely captivating, and you feel for the struggle that her character is going through being unable to let go of her son and how she is still trying to work through how this could happen to her only child. Opposite Ms. Mahlman in the role of Cal Porter is C. Anthony Robinson. Mr. Robinson provides a fantastic performance. He is able to bring the emotion needed to a character that is trying to make peace with the past without letting it overtake his future. He tries to understand what Katharine is going through even though she does not seem willing to understand what he has experienced. Mr. Robinson’s performance provides both humor and emotion to show the growth that Cal has gone through in the twenty years since Andre has passed. Joining Ms. Mahlman and Mr. Robinson are Michael Casalaspro as Cal’s husband, Will Ogden and Randall Nied as their six-year-old son Bud. These two characters are gentle additions to the script to show the growth that has happened in the world for the LGBT community. They also provide a reminder for Katharine that Cal has moved on while she is unable to. The performances within this production are the strongest element of the entire show and is the major reason audiences should see this show.
The technical elements of the show are all appropriate and assist in creating the world of the show. The most effective element are the costumes designed by Katelyn Jackson. Ms. Jackson was able to effectively create costumes that looked appropriate for the 90s and move the characters into modern day. Her work was subtle and well done. The set designed by Sandy Lawrence worked for Mothers and Sons and constantly had me thinking how much Cal and Will’s rent is in New York City for the size of their apartment. The lighting design by Riley Rowan was mostly effective except for two elements. One, when the lamp on the table near the sofa was cut on the room got unrealistically brighter; almost like an overhead light was cut on versus a simple table lamp. Two, there are two practical elements within the show that did not seem to be handled with the rest of the lights. One was the table lamp mentioned above and the other is a Christmas tree. When the lights go out at the end of the show, Mr. Robinson had to manually cut off the lamp which took away from the ending moment and the Christmas tree went off after the rest of the lights. These elements did not really impact the show until the end, but it did take away from the final moment created on stage.
Andre’s Mother and Mothers and Sons are beautiful scripts that provide some very solid performances and tells a story that needs to be told. Thank you to Mr. McNally’s writing, we are able to hear powerful words that focus on the after effects of what happened in the 80s and 90s and how it impacts the survivors of today. All the elements come together to build an enjoyable and eye-opening evening of theatre. As a reminder, this production does run without an intermission. The production runs through April 7. Visit www.ltvb.com for more information.