The action of the play is set in Cleveland on the day before young Conor Staiger is to undergo an operation which he will not, for long, survive. Then, in flashbacks, we meet Conor's parents, Marty and Casey, whose marriage has not proved strong enough to stand the strain of their son's tragic illness. At first it was Marty, the happy-go-lucky "flower child" who seemed the irresponsible and immature partner while Casey was the well-adjusted and purposeful one. But, as Conor's condition worsened, it was Casey, feeling helpless and defeated, who escaped to California and a new life, leaving Marty to find the residual strength to deal with their shared crisis. Coming back from Conor's operation, Casey also has a reunion with her best friend, Phyllis, who, still unmarried and living at home, senses that it is loneliness, rather than despair, that is the greatest evil. And, in the end, when Casey refuses to give up her new life, it is Phyllis who moves into the disrupted marriage and takes her friend's place—joining the very much changed Marty in sharing the sad but necessary task of helping Conor through the agony of his final months.
A nationally noted success in its initial production at the Humana Festival of New American Plays at the Actors Theatre of Louisville, this sensitive, deeply affecting play went on to further presentation by New York's Vineyard Theatre. "…the play touches us with its sensitivity to the extenuating circumstances of a shared crisis." —NY Times. "Gallagher gracefully balances humor and pathos…An unusually poignant drama that leaves us strangely optimistic in the face of tragedy." —BackStage. "…HOW TO SAY GOODBYE has a terrible Chekhovian sense of life as a diminished thing." —Village Voice.