Monday, February 22, 2016

Mothers and Sons—Artists Repertory Theatre—SW Portland

Bridges or Walls

This timely, NW Premiere drama by Terrence McNally is directed by Jane Unger and playing at their space, SW Alder St. & 16th Ave., through March 6th.  For more information, go to their site at

The Pope has just come out with the statement that we need to be building bridges, not walls, between people.  The same could be said for the recognition and acceptance and tolerance of those who do not believe in the same things that the “main stream” does.  And, case in point, if a person’s sexual preferences differ from that, then they are often ostracized and condemned for it and…the Walls go up.

But, folks, Love is a universal theme crossing all boundaries…and it is a very personal choice.  Who or How we Love is nobody’s business but the people involved.  And beware of judging others, for in the end, it may be you who are on the hot seat.  To traverse that Bridge to understanding others is quite simple…you just put one foot in front of the other….

The time is just a few short years ago in NYC where Gay marriage has been accepted.  It is a posh apartment on the Upper West Side near Christmastime.  Cal (Michael Meldenson) has a surprise visitor and not the one in a fluffy white beard and red suit that would arrive at this time of year.  It is Katherine (JoAnn Johnson), the mother of Cal’s former lover, Andre, who died of Aids some years earlier.  And Andre was an actor and only son of Katherine and her now, just recently deceased, husband.  She is alone with only memories now and a diary belonging to her son.

Cal has since married Will (Ryan Tresser) and they have a young son, Bud (Holden Goyette).  But the ghost of Andre still haunts them.  The estrangement of mother and son during those years with Cal; a box of old photos and a diary recalling happier times; the “blame game” of who was responsible for the “changed” lifestyle of a beloved young man; the resentment of this intrusion by Cal’s new love; and the inquisitive little boy who just may hold the key to building that Bridge.  All issues that need to be dealt with but also need to be seen by you to discover the outcome.

Unger has done a wonderful job of creating a world that we feel we can just take a few steps and walk into.  The atmosphere and set (designer, Daniel Meeker) are so complete you feel a bit like an intruder, peeking in on others lives.  McNally’s script is rich and heartfelt in the search for truth and his snippets of dialogue present the framework to discover that.  It may not be smooth sailing but each of the characters does have their points of view which are presented fairly.

Mendelson is like a rare wine, it/he gets better as it matures.  This may be his most sensitive performance and I believe he felt every word he said.  Any role for an actor demands that they dig deep to find the truth within themselves and then expose it on the stage.  Mendelson is a master at that.  Johnson is a very fine actor and director, too.  This is a heart-wrenching role and she pulls out all the stops to give it fair weight.  It could have been played as a type of villain but the character she creates is all too human.  A mirror, perhaps, to Life itself and expertly portrayed.

Tresser does well in a difficult role needing to convince us of his love for Cal but not wanting to estrange him by his memories of Andre.  Well played.  And young Goyette certainly has a career in front of him, if he chooses.  The role calls for someone who is inquisitive, outspoken but mustn’t appear obnoxious.  Goyette delicately rides that thin line and makes it work.  As mentioned, all these actors presented a believable front without any false heroics or outright villainy.  They present us with Truth, in all its many guises.

I recommend this play.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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