by Clark Groome
Andre Gerard died of AIDS 20 years ago. At his New York memorial, chronicled in Terrence McNally’s TV film “Andre’s Mother,” his mother is angry at herself, at Andre’s lover Cal Porter and at Andre himself for “choosing” a lifestyle that was anathema to her: “He wasn’t gay when he moved to New York” to be an actor at age 18, she says.
That comment is delivered as part of the unexpected and prickly reunion that Katharine (Michael Learned of “Waltons” fame) and Cal (James Lloyd Reynolds) have in McNally’s latest play, “Mothers and Sons,” which is getting a sharply focused production at Philadelphia Theatre Company at its Suzanne Roberts Theatre through March 8.
After Katharine shows up unexpectedly at Cal’s apartment, she learns that things have changed. Cal is now married to Will Ogden (Hugh Kennedy), and they are the parents of the precocious young Bud (Plymouth Meeting’s Patrick Gibbons Jr. alternating with Jacob Wilner).
Cal has moved on, although it took him eight years to get his life going after Andre’s death. His young husband grew up when AIDS had ceased being an automatic death sentence and become a manageable condition. Gay relationships have gained respect. The world today is far different than it was when Katharine’s 29-year old son died.
Cal, while never forgetting or dishonoring Andre, has found a new life. While he has moved on, Katharine has not. She’s still angry. She has never forgiven Cal, whom she insists on calling “Mr. Porter” for being the subject of the love she wished to have from Andre.
McNally, who has chronicled life in the gay community in many of his fine dramas, has written a remarkably sensitive play about the positive changes that have happened in that world. But all, clearly, is not perfect, and the iciness and prickliness that Katharine shows towards Cal and his family puts the ongoing problems in stark relief.
As the interaction among the characters in “Mothers and Sons” unfolds, the one ray of hope — and it’s a bright ray in the encounter between Katharine and Cal — comes from the almost seven-year old Bud.
Director Wendy C. Goldberg’s flawless cast manages to bring the varying and alternating feelings driving the characters to life. The dialogue never seems forced in the 90-minute play that takes place in real time in Cal and Will’s John Arnone-designed stunning Central Park West apartment. Arnone’s design is ably abetted by Richard St. Clair (costumes), Josh Epstein (lighting) and Daniel Perelstein (sound).
For those who remember the horrors of the toughest AIDS years and the long-standing homophobia and discrimination, “Mothers and Sons” is a strong and articulate reminder of how far the gay community and the rest of society have come since Andre died all those years ago.
For tickets call 215-985-0420 or visit www.philadelphiatheatrecompany.org.