‘Mothers and Sons’ play is a rich character study

Old wounds re-open and closure seems elusive in “Mothers and Sons,” an intricate character study by acclaimed playwright Terence McNally.

Thoughtfully acted and meticulously staged, the production at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis’s intimate Emerson Studio Theater provides drama at close range. We can feel the tension in the air.

Katharine, a well-heeled woman of old money, drops in on her late son's partner at the tony Manhattan apartment they once shared.

She is visiting from Dallas, perfectly groomed and wearing a statement fur coat. Actress Darrie Lawrence, a veteran of 14 shows at The Rep, projects an unmistakable haughty air.

As Cal shows her an expansive view of the Upper West Side and makes small talk, he's jittery and jumpy. Actor Harry Bouvy is a marvel of tics and subtleties as Cal, who has moved on with his life. She can barely contain her resentment.

Apparently, there is an unpleasant history there that will be revealed soon enough.

Through McNally’s superbly crafted dialogue and by what's not said, it's clear that Andre's estranged mother has been unable to cope with her son's death from AIDS 20 years earlier.

McNally reprised his characters from the 1988 short play, “Andre's Mother,” which was adapted for television in 1990.

He is a four-time Tony winner for “Love! Valour! Compassion!,” “Master Class,” “Kiss of the Spider Woman” and “Ragtime.” This master storyteller explores thorny relationships involving gay couples.

In this 2013 play, he addresses further acceptance in society. During its Broadway run, it was Tony nominated for Best Play and Tyne Daly as Best Actress in 2014.

Cal is now married to Will (Michael Keyloun), and they've adopted a son, Bud. Will tries to be gracious, but can't see the point of Katharine's visit, and confrontations become testy.

Keyloun is natural and nuanced as someone unexpectedly thrown into a conflict not of their own making.

Katharine never came to grips with her son being gay, and reflections about marriage, motherhood and making a life are revealed.

As she sees another side to her son, a bit of healing takes place. She begins to thaw, too, facilitated by an unlikely innocent — the couple's 7-year-old son. Simon Desilets is a bright spot, a remarkable find, and a sweet counterpart to all the sourness conjured up.

While an ordinary Saturday progresses, a connection emerges that transcends bitterness and different viewpoints.

The 90-minute play, in the deft hands of director Michael Evan Haney, shows us how far things have come — to see a happy same-sex union now legal. But also how much more there is to do because, even with medical advances, HIV/AIDS hasn't gone away and its effect remains far-reaching.

James Wolk's tasteful scenic design allows for fluid interaction of the ensemble, and tells us at a glance how well-educated and cultured the characters are, as does Amanda Werre's sound design.

Costume designer Elizabeth Eisloeffel also perfectly establishes the characters, from Katharine’s affluence to Bud's age-appropriate Spider-Man pajamas. Lighting designer John Wylie evokes a wintry late afternoon through twilight and eventually, evening.

Performed without an intermission, "Mothers and Sons" is a forum for deeply felt peace, love and understanding, bridging an unspoken generation gap and a glimpse of a modern family.

"Mothers and Sons"

When: Through Nov. 13

Who: The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Where: Emerson Studio Theatre

Information: www.repstl.org or 314- 968-4925