Velina Brown and Andrew Nance appear in New Conservatory Theatre Center’s regional premiere of Terrence McNally’s “Mothers and Sons.” (Courtesy Lois Tema)

Velina Brown’s performance lights up NCTC’s ‘Mothers and Sons’

The title of Terrence McNally’s “Mothers and Sons” (now at New Conservatory Theatre Center in a regional premiere) is a bit of a misnomer. It’s actually about one very particular mother, Katherine — haughty, prickly, abrasive — and Cal, the lover (now happily married) of her late son, André, who died of AIDS years ago.

And it’s about the traumatic aftereffects, and the ongoing gravity, of the AIDS epidemic.

And of course it’s about the relationship between Katherine and André, too.

It is not a comedy, although director Arturo Catricala seems to want to turn it into one some of the time.

Katherine (Velina Brown) has appeared, unannounced, at Cal’s upscale Manhattan apartment, presumably to return André’s journal, which Cal had previously sent her. Neither has had the heart to read it.

But elegant, aloof and apparently homophobic Katherine clearly has other thoughts on her mind, as she coolly peruses Cal’s apartment (nice set by Kuo-Hao Lo), tightly wrapped in a fur coat. And they are not happy thoughts.

For his part, eager-to-please Cal (Andrew Nance, who has some nice, heartfelt moments but often seems more like an uncomfortable actor than an uncomfortable character) doesn’t know how to handle this unexpected visitor.

It’s to McNally’s credit that he has created a woman who is not only a cipher to Cal but, for a long time, to us: Katherine is multi-layered, unpredictable, revealing herself so gradually over the course of the play that you may end up, to your own surprise, feeling her pain.

Such a character would not work without an actor like Brown in the role, who proves once again that she is as adept at drama as she is at comedy and musicals. She digs down deep to conjure a powerful portrait of an extraordinarily complex and unhappy woman, with never trace of sentimentality.

Still, this would have been a better play had it been a two-hander; the relationship between Katherine and Cal is so intense, so heavily laden, for both of them, with secrets and painful memories and unanswered questions, that the presence of Cal’s husband and young son are annoying distractions that dilute what could have been a taut, tight drama.

Additionally problematic: under Catricala’s unevenly paced direction, both Cal’s husband and the kid are presented as cartoonishly hyper and inauthentic. They seem to be in an entirely different play, perhaps a farce. McNally’s themes deserve more respect.

REVIEW
Mothers and Sons
Where: New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays–Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes April 3
Tickets: $15 to $35
Contact: (415) 861-8972, www.nctcsf.org

Just Posted

New SFMTA director’s tweets show aversion to free parking, cars

The City’s new transit leader has a bumpy relationship with cars. Jeffrey… Continue reading

Advocates say Academy of Art deal ignores needs of students with disabilities

The needs of students with disabilities are being ignored in a proposed… Continue reading

City stalls request for more parking for 911 dispatchers, citing ‘Transit First’ policy

SFMTA board says city staff should be ‘leading by example,’ discouraged from driving

Recall effort against Fewer panned as ‘PR stunt’

Signature drive inspired by anti-SFPOA chant faces ‘procedural hurdles,’ little support

SF to ward off emerging technology dangers by launching new regulatory office

Board president Norman Yee says innovation must ‘provide a net common good’

Most Read