Mildred's Umbrella Company

Some MIght not know that terrence McNally’s 2014 Mothers and Sons is actually a followup to the playwright's 1988 work, Andre’s Mother. Building on the earlier play’s plot of an estranged matriarch attending her son’s funeral after his death from AIDS, Mothers centers on Katharine—who has recently lost her husband—as she turns over her son’s journal to his former partner, Cal.

“I was really taken aback by the honesty in this play,” says Ron Jones, who’s directing a Mildred's Umbrella staged reading of Mothers on December 1. “You really feel like a voyeur when you watch it and see all these emotions just laid bare. McNally’s writing is always so compelling, and in this play, we see all the awkwardness, all the awful things people say to each other.”

For Midlred's, the reading also brings a new outreach element to its already socially conscious programming. A new initiative, Partners for A.R.T. (Awareness & Rebuilding Through Theater), kicks off the company’s commitment to using theater to raise awareness and funds for organizations that share its values of equity, diversity , and inclusion—hence the inclusion of Omega House, the local AIDS hospice. 

Scheduled to coincide with World AIDS Day, this particular reading is also about remembering the ongoing impact of the crisis.

“We sometimes get complacent with the advances we’ve had with modern medicine,” says Mildred’s managing director Rebecca Ayers. “But we really need to recall the struggles so many went through for us to get here. Mothers and Sons is set in 1994, which is after the beginning of the AIDS crisis, but still well before the advances we’ve seen that have helped improve and extend the lives of people living with AIDS and HIV.”

While the play is very much the story of Katharine coming to terms with her son’s death and trying to understand his life as a gay man, it’s also the story of Cal, who has moved on from Andre’s death. Jones calls it a story of love and loss and thinks the way the family dynamics play out will resonate with audiences.

“It’s about loss, of course,” he explains. “But it’s also about love: the love between Andre and Cal, the love Katharine has for her son, the love Cal has made with his new partner and the son they’re raising. This play, to me, really shows both the dark side and the lighter side to AIDS.”

“When I first read it, I expected it to be sadder,” Ayers adds. “But it’s this beautiful story of loss and reconciliation, and it explores relationships in such a truthful way. You really have to go forward; you can’t live in the past.”

Ayers hopes the show will not only help audiences understand the realities of life with AIDS nearly 25 years ago, but also helps them to see theater as a way to explore and understand social issues. She’s looking forward to using Mildred’s outreach efforts to bring theater to other places in Houston—and not only educate audiences about pressing issues of the day, but also highlights the work Bayou City organizations are doing for those facing them.

Following the performance on December 1, Omega House's director, Sandy Stacy, will participate in a brief talkback with the cast, and the audience can ask questions. In January, the theater company will stage a reading that deals with human trafficking.

“We might, as we go forward, expand our outreach to include conducting acting or writing workshops with affected populations as a way to help them process trauma,” Ayers says.

Dec. 1, Tickets Pay-What-You-Can (Proceeds benefit Omega House). Mildred's Umbrella at Chelsea Market, 4617 Montrose Blvd. 832-463-0409. More info at mildredsumbrella.com.

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