From Andre’s Mother to Mothers and Sons Or: Do I have to see both to understand this one?
On March 7, 1990, American Playhouse aired Andre’s Mother, starring Sada Thompson and Richard Thomas, and written by Terrence McNally. Originally produced as an 8-minute one-act play at Manhattan Theatre Club in 1988, the teleplay of Andre’s Mother looks at three days in the life of a woman whose son has just died of AIDS, and how she relates (or not) to the people in his life who are most important to him.
Twenty-four years later, Mothers and Sons opened on Broadway. This play takes place 20 years after the events of Andre’s Mother, and features two of the same characters (in the Broadway incarnation, played by Tyne Daly and Frederick Weller). So, do you need to have seen Andre’s Mother to understand and appreciate the relationships and events in Mothers and Sons?
The playwright, Terrence McNally, would say certainly not. McNally told Out magazine in March, 2004, “I re-read it and so much has happened in the past 25 years, certainly over the last 20. So this is in no way a sequel. It's a new play; it's a 25 years later continuation. I can't deny that I wrote a play 25 years ago called Andre's Mother. But this is definitely a new play by Terence McNally.”
McNally is well-known for his plays that address the AIDS crisis in America, and Mothers and Sons is no different. In a country where so much has happened politically for the gay community in the 25 years since Andre’s Mother—marriage equality is one benefit that wasn’t even a thought in the 1990s—AIDS is still affecting individuals and families. Upon the release of Andre’s Mother, McNally told the LA Times, “Other playwrights have had characters who have AIDS, but I was interested in the impact on others. Andre dealt with AIDS through the physical suffering, and now these people have the emotional suffering it's caused them” (March 4, 1990). Mothers and Sons is still about the survivors, who are now surviving in ways no one may have thought possible 20 years ago. There are new familial bonds, new relationships, and new alienations that could not have been formed at the time of Andre’s death.
Mothers and Sons is a clear testament to the lives of people who have been affected by AIDS and the ways in which they struggle to heal, whether you’ve seen Andre’s Mother or not.