In 1990 PBS aired one of the most amazing dramas ever seen on prime TV, especially considering the subject matter. “Andre’s Mother” (American Playhouse) by gay playwright Terrence McNally is about the AIDS epidemic and its effect on loved ones. Les than 60 minutes long, “Andre’s Mother” is powerful and devastating drama. Holding nothing back, the drama goes straight for the heart. The film opens with the funeral of Andre and then moves back and forth from past to present. We never see Andre but by the end of the movie we feel we knew him. The film reminds us of what we have tried so hard to forget—the death of so many beautiful young men. In the 90’s parents did not always act like parents.
I first saw the movie when my sister sent me a copy of it when I was living in Israel and I have never quite gotten over it. Seeing it again recently made me realize just how powerful it is. The script is inventive and filled with emotion. The fact that Andre’s mother acted the way she did in the beginning and in the flashbacks made us wonder what ever happened to the humanity of man.
Andre’s mother, Katherine comes to New York from Dallas to attend the memorial service of her son whom she lost to AIDS. The film follows her journey as she finally faces the fact about the death of her son. She is greeted in New York by her dead son’s anguished lover, Cal (Richard Thomas in a bravura performance). In flashback we see her monuments of denial and miscommunication with her son. Finally Cal is able to penetrate her isolation and the two seek reconciliation and understanding. All that is missing is the one that brought them together, Andre. Andre’s death created a volatile atmosphere in which feelings were repressed as well as resentments and grief that was unexpressed threatened to boil over and consume both mother and partner. Sada Thompson as Katherine is sublime and both she and Thomas give heart wrenching performances. When Cal describes Andre’s battle with AIDS it is chilling. I think some of us have forgotten how devastating and debilitating the disease was. When Katherine, Andre’s mother, finally is able to make peace with her son’s life style that she could not understand, I felt the sun had begun to shine. But I found myself asking why it took her so long. Are we, as gay men, that horrible? The look on Andre’s mother’s face when she finally accepts her son’s life is a picture that I will always remember. Watching Katherine with the balloons at the end of the film was sheer beauty. It hurt so badly to see Andre’s mother hold such resentment for Cal but to see her make peace with him was a reward I had not co8unted upon. Cal described her as “inimitable”. She would not face the reality that she had bore a gay son who actually managed to live a happy and fulfilled life. It hurt her to see Cal who had received Andre’s affection and even with Andre’s death she remained stoic, removed and cold. But as the story unfolds, Katherine’s defenses come down and her heart is opened ad she comes to love and know the beauty that her son shared with those in his life as well as of the love he received. Se stands at a place where she must decide to face the realities that she needed to face—a beautiful son was lost to her forever and a son-in-law with whom she cold have a loving relationship with along with acquiring a new broadmindedness.
“Andre’s Mother” is gorgeous and glorious, touching and beguiling. What a way to spend an hour!