Playwright Terrence McNally was already in middle age by the 1980s, when the AIDS crisis first surfaced and began to ravage the gay community with particular force. Now, at 77, he is old enough to have seen the many changes that have occurred in gay life over several decades as he himself has joined in a civil union with his partner (in 2003), followed by a marriage (in 2010).
McNally also is old enough to know that history can fade quickly, with each succeeding generation increasingly distanced from a full understanding of “the way it was then” as compared to “the way it is now.” And to a great extent that is the overriding theme in this prolific dramatist’s 2014 play “Mothers and Sons,” now in a production at Northlight Theatre directed by Steve Scott. But while McNally has tapped into a worthy idea, his play feels like a forced construct rather than a fully organic piece.
‘MOTHERS AND SONS’
When: Through Feb. 27
Where: Northlight Theater,
9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie
Info: (847) 673-6300;
Run time: 1 hour and
50 minutes with no intermission
“Mothers and Sons” is set in the comfortable, traditionally furnished living room of a condo on New York’s Central Park West, with Jack McGaw’s set suggesting its inhabitants are far from high style mavens.
The place is home to Cal Porter (Jeff Parker), a successful, fortysomething money manager, and his younger husband, Will Ogden (Benjamin Sprunger), a struggling novelist with one story published in the New Yorker. The couple, who met via the Internet, are the biological parents of a precocious 6-year-old, Bud Ogden-Parker (Ben Miller), “conceived” through a combination of Petri dish and surrogate mother.
On this particular day, an unexpected visitor arrives, and she is not exactly an ebullient presence. Katharine Gerard (Cindy Gold) is the now gray-haired mother of Cal’s long-ago partner, Andre, a handsome actor who was well on his way to a solid New York career when he died of “complications of AIDS” nearly 20 years earlier.
Katharine, who grew up in a working-class area of a posh suburb north of New York, married and moved to Texas, where she raised Andre. She is now a widow, and without her husband (who she didn’t seem to love terribly much) or her son (who fled to New York at 18), she is lonelier than ever. The truth is, she was never the most loving of human beings, and she knows this. Nevertheless, the loss of her son has left her both angry and inconsolable.
Clearly, she could not accept Andre’s homosexuality. And it was Cal, not she, who nursed him throughout his illness. In fact, Katharine barely made it to Andre’s memorial service. Now, bitter and alone, she has come to return the thick diary Andre kept that Cal had mailed to her. Clearly the diary became a good excuse to visit and find “closure,” however much she might detest that word. In fact, as Katharine tells us, she wants its opposite: “revenge.” And now, all too aware that her son was part of a lost generation, she cannot come to terms with the apparent happiness she sees Cal enjoying as a husband and father.
As it happens, Katharine could never really make peace with the world as it evolved during her lifetime, nor can she come to terms with the memory of her son, or with herself. Bitter, angry and solitary, she carries a long-hardened shell only Bud can crack.
The four performances here are solid. But the play still feels stilted, with McNally crafting his scenes in a way that gives you the sense you are watching his outline for the play, and that the list of his ideas has remained fully visible.