Tyne Daly was last seen on Broadway in the 2011 revival of Terrence McNally's Master Class, where she played glamorous, operatic diva Maria Callas. She reunites with McNally for his 20th Broadway production, Mothers and Sons — which opens March 24 at the John Golden Theatre (home to McNally's original Master Class, starring Zoe Caldwell) — and takes on grief-stricken mother Katharine Gerard, a role that (McNally admits) he wrote specifically for the Tony Award-winning actress. When Katharine loses her husband to cancer, she takes a trip to New York City to pay a surprise visit to Cal Porter, her late son's ex-partner. Through a series of argumentative conversations, Katharine struggles with her son's sexuality, his death from AIDS and her own outdated views on equality. At a press event — held at an Upper West Side apartment, in the style of the show, in the midst of Mothers and Sons previews — Daly spoke with Playbill.com about Katharine, motherhood and McNally.
Tell me about Katharine Gerard?
Tyne Daly: Well, you have to come to see her to know all about her. She's real, I know that. She's complicated. She's a product of her own time. She has a heart like a fist, in terms of how she's experienced personal grief. Grief has closed her down, and she's been holding onto it for a very long time. I love her.
Terrence McNally wrote a piece for Playbill magazine, in which he said he not only wrote for your voice, but also for your soul. Do you feel like you know this woman all too well?
TD: Hmm… Well, it's an amazing thing to have a wonderful, important playwright say that he wrote a play for you. And, I've been working for a very long time, but it still makes me… It's very gratifying to think, "Wow. My voice…" All the time, as an actor, when you play somebody, [people] ask, "Is that you?" Was Mary Beth Lacey [in "Cagney & Lacey"] me? Was Rose Hovick [in Gypsy] me? The only one everyone was sure wasn't me was Maria Callas [in Master Class] because Maria Callas was Maria Callas. But, certainly, you always use yourself. That's what we have. We don't have a violin or a piano. We have ourselves.
I think Terrence has a beautiful voice as a playwright, and he writes very musically, and I'm a person who is an aural learner — not a visual learner. I often hear a character first before I see her or see a space. I'm mesmerized today because we're looking at this amazing view from this apartment building, and it's very close to the one that's described in the play, so I'm kind of sucking this in. So, I hear her… Terrence has said to me, "We get each other." We get each other. I don't know if there's a more articulate way to say that. I "get it" about his writing… His writing is very shaped and considered. There's not a casual or throwaway word in the [piece], so it's like an opera score or a musical score. If you sing one of the notes wrong, it's not going to be quite right. There's a wonderful discipline — strictness — to it, and inside that strictness, you have room to play. It's really fun. He's really fun to work for. Doing Callas was a big stretch and challenge for me, and I also had the example of Zoe Caldwell, and that had been one of the times in the theatre that moved me enormously, so to take that on was kind of a deep breath. But this one is… I love it for its timeliness, for its newness and for its compassion.
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