Mothers and Sons – Costume Design and Lighting Design Blogpost

Part I: In Terrence McNally’s “Mothers and Sons,” a cold winter’s day in New York City soon becomes heated inside the Central Park West apartment of Cal Porter (played by Adam Brietzke) and Will Ogden (Dakota McWhorter). The unannounced arrival of Katharine Gerard (Alana Barragán-Scott), the mother of Cal’s passed lover Andre, brings words and feelings that may have been better left unsaid to the light. The times may have changed since Andre’s passing 20 years ago, but tensions have remained as high-strung as ever.

The characters are dressed in very contemporary garb much like any person you would see walking down the street during the winter. Winter hats, sweaters and fur coats are all items you could see in downtown New York City and the performance accurately reflects that throughout the course of the show. But, the clothing worn by each character can be interpreted another level deeper as a representation of their personality and character portrayed onstage. For example, Katharine Gerard first appears wearing a heavy fur coat (to endure the chilly temperatures outside) on top of her bright, blood red dress. Cal takes her coat after the two have an intense exchange about Andre and whether he was gay before he came to New York. In a sense, this can be viewed as an opening of Gerard’s emotions and a removal of a “layer” of pent-up anger, frustration, inquisitiveness and all-around emotion revolving around her life in the past twenty years between her husband’s recent passing as well as her own questions about her son’s life and death, which slowly start to emerge as the performance progresses. Later on, Katharine heads to the “little girl’s room” as Cal and Will begin a back-and-forth about Cal’s past in the form of Katharine showing up in their living room. Will criticizes Cal for building up Katharine as one of the worst people to ever exist in the past, but welcoming her into their home with open-armed hospitality. This line packs a double-punch when taking the blue dress shirt Cal is wearing into consideration, as the more calming, relaxing color (especially opposite Gerard’s intense red) complements his friendly disposition.

The two main sources of lighting on the stage comes from two lamps on each side of the living room. One stands on top of a cabinet next to some liquor bottles and the other is across the living room standing on an end-table in-between doorways to the kitchen and the foyer by the front door. At the very far corner of the front of the stage near stage left is a little artificial fireplace. While the two lamps provide an adequate amount of light while additionally serving as stationary props, theatre lights shine down for the entirety of the performance without any change in color or illumination. That being said, the lighting design (designed by Rachel Keith, who also serves as board operator for the show) is able to subtly compose the mood of the play as well as the weather outside in the performance. For instance, the play opens under a broad and dark blue guise of darkness with Cal and Katharine staring out of the apartment window, looking toward the audience as the stage lights come on. From this opening as well as the ensuing conversation of sights from the apartment, we as the audience can gather that it is a “blustery and cold winter’s day” according to the time of the play’s program. It is not spectacularly illuminated like that of a creeping sun, but very artificial-like, possibly indicating clouds or darker weather surrounding the area of the apartment. This is further documented only a few minutes later as Katharine comments on the heat of the room after a heated conversation with Cal about Andre. In particular, she notes the artificial fireplace in the corner of the living room. Although it only appears to give off a glimmer of light from the audience’s perspective, it’s appearance in the play fits with the time of the year. Meaning, it makes sense that a fireplace (while although artificial) is on and gives off heat in the middle of winter in this simmering apartment. 

Part II: Opposing each other from across Porter and Ogden’s living room, Gerard and Porter appear as total opposites in personality, convictions and sense of purpose in life. This is highlighted by their choice in wardrobe during the entirety of the show. Gerard wears a red dress that alludes to her bubbling anger about to boil over. In contrast is Porter’s blue dress shirt, a more relaxed color to match his kind, amiable demeanor.


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