Terrence McNally again considers the AIDS crisis from the perspective of those left behind.
She stares into the distance, unspeaking; he prattles on to fill the silence. It's a familiar dynamic for these two characters as soon as you realize they're familiar from another Terrence McNally play. Cal (Jeff Parker) and Katharine (Cindy Gold) first appeared in a short play McNally wrote in 1988 called Andre's Mother; Andre was her son and his lover, and they were at his memorial service.
Now, she's shown up unannounced from Dallas on his Manhattan doorstep, 20 years later (McNally fudged the timeline for this 2014 work, but you forgive him). Cal is now married to a younger man, Will (Benjamin Sprunger), and the two are raising a 6-year-old son (Ben Miller). What Katharine has come for now, having not spoken to Cal in two decades, remains elusive for much of the play's 90 minutes. But where she didn't speak a word in her 10-minute debut, her creator lets her say plenty here.
McNally has often been at his best as a chronicler of current gay life (or a certain white, upper-middle-class or at least aspirational strain of it, anyway) in plays like Love! Valour! Compassion!. Revisiting the characters of Andre's Mother (which he expanded into an Emmy-winning episode of PBS's American Playhouse in 1990) allows him the opportunity to incisively comment on those aspects of the present moment—marriage equality, gay parenting, HIV as a manageable disease—that no one was even considering as possibilities 20 years ago.
But it also allows him to give some room for dignity, even in opposition, to the still unenlightened. Gold's Katharine is neither sympathetic nor particularly repentant for her rejection of her son's relationship and reality. But McNally, for the most part, resists encouraging us to jeer her, and Gold's nuanced performance lets us see hints of the isolation and loneliness beneath Katharine's standoffish demeanor. In Steve Scott's sensitive, heartfelt production, we even start to root for her to come around.
Northlight Theatre. By Terrence McNally. Directed by Steve Scott. With Cindy Gold, Jeff Parker, Benjamin Sprunger, Ben Miller. Running time: 1hr 35mins; no intermission.