Memory is dampened by medical advances, giving succor to those who want to believe AIDS is now a manageable disease. With a generation erased, who is left to remember and tell the story? For those who remain, how much do they want to tell? Will their anger, sorrow and, yes, even their guilt allow them to power through? Who tutors subsequent generations of any minority scrambling for human rights about their history and about how much death it can take before a righteous militia insists on liberty? Is the pain that can never be transferred worth the struggle to share?
Playwright Terrence McNally’s “Mothers and Sons” takes on that conversation. The child of his Emmy Award-winning television play, “Andre’s Mother,” this play continues the exploration of the two central characters, Andre’s mother and his lover Cal, after their twenty-year silence following Andre’s memorial service. Are grief and fury manageable diseases?
The play ran only three months on Broadway, despite Tony nominations for McNally and Tyne Daly, never finding traction with audiences or critics. In 2014, many of us weren’t ready for “another AIDS play.”
Northlight has assembled a formidable team to live this story. Director Steve Scott guides actors Cindy Gold (Katharine), Jeff Parker (Cal), Benjamin Sprunger (his husband Will) and Ben Miller (their young son, Bud) through McNally’s beautifully crafted play. The anxiety ratchets up before being expertly released through humor or another diversion only to begin the climb to the next dramatic peak, each mountain of hurt taller than the next until the unforgiving apex.
This production left me gasping as I fell headlong into Gold’s needful, vacuum-sealed fury, Parker’s self-deluded graciousness, Sprunger’s disconnected entitlement and Miller’s open-hearted acceptance, doctoring the world with an Oreo cookie and milk.
McNally is right to teach history. History keeps repeating. Cal is right to shout down Katharine’s “Children don’t fix anything!” with “This one does!” Don’t pay any attention to the New York critics. Be brave enough to see this play. (Aaron Hunt)
Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Boulevard, Skokie, (847)673-6300, northlight.org, $25-$79. Through February 27.