McNally, Terrence

views updated

Terrence McNally


Born November 3, 1939, in St. Petersburg, FL; son of Hubert Arthur and Dorothy Katharine (Rapp) McNally. Education: Columbia University, B.A., 1960.


Agent—Peter Franklin, Gilbert Parker, William Morris Agency, 1325 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019-6026.


Playwright. Actors Studio, New York, NY, stage manager, 1961, tutor, 1961-62; film critic for The Seventh Art, 1963-65; Columbia College Today, New York, NY, assistant editor, 1963-65.


American Academy of Arts and Letters, Dramatists Guild (vice president, 1981—), Phi Beta Kappa.

Awards, Honors

Henry Evans traveling fellowship, Columbia University, 1960; Stanley Award, 1962, for This Side of the Door; Guggenheim fellowship, 1966 and 1969; runner-up, Drama Desk Award for most promising playwright, 1969; Hull Warriner Award, 1973, 1987, and 1989; Off Broadway Award for best play, Village Voice, 1974, for Bad Habits, and 1975, for The Ritz; Achievement in Playwriting citations, American Academy of Arts and Letters and National Institute of Arts and Letters, both 1975, both for The Ritz; Emmy Award, 1990, for Andre's Mother; Antoinette Perry ("Tony") Award for best book of a musical, 1993, for Kiss of the Spider Woman; Pulitzer Prize nomination for drama, 1994, for A Perfect Ganesh; Tony Award for best play, and Outer Critics' Circle Award for Best Broadway Play, both 1995, both for Love! Valour! Compassion!, and both 1996, both for Master Class; Tony Award for best book of a musical, 1998, for Ragtime; Tony Award nomination for best book of a musical, 2001, for The Full Monty; Tony Award for best revival of a play, 2003, for Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune; Drama Desk Award nomination for outstanding book of a musical, 2003, for A Man of No Importance; Helen Hayes Tribute, 2004, for "significant contribution to the American theater."



(Adapter) Giles Cooper, The Lady of the Camellias, first produced on Broadway at Winter Garden Theatre, 1963.

And Things That Go Bump in the Night (also see below; three-act; first produced in Minneapolis, MN, 1964; produced on Broadway at Royale Theatre, 1965), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1966.

Apple Pie: Three One-Act Plays (includes Tour, first produced in Los Angeles at Mark Taper Forum, 1967, as part of The Scene; collection produced as Collision Course Off-Broadway, 1968), published in Collision Course, edited by Ed Parone, Random House (New York, NY), 1968, published under original title, Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1968.

(Author of book) Here's Where I Belong (musical; based on novel East of Eden by John Steinbeck), music by Robert Waldman, first produced on Broadway at Billy Rose Theatre, 1968.

Sweet Eros, Next, and Other Plays (contains Sweet Eros [one-act], first produced Off-Broadway at Gramercy Arts Theatre, 1968; Next, first produced off-Broadway at Greenwich Mews Playhouse, 1969; Witness [one-act], first produced Off-Broadway at Gramercy Arts Theatre, 1968; ¡Cuba Si! [also see below; one-act], first produced off-Broadway at Theatre de Lys, 1968; and Botticelli [also see below]), Random House (New York, NY), 1969.

Noon (one-act; bound with Morning by Israel Horovitz and Night by Leonard Malfi; first produced on Broadway at Henry Miller's Theatre, 1968), Random House (New York, NY), 1969.

Botticelli (also see below), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1969.

Sweet Eros and Witness: Two One-Act Plays (also see below), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1969.

¡Cuba Si!, Bringing It All Back Home, Last Gasps: Three Plays (Bringing It All Back Home [one-act; first produced Off-Broadway at La Mama Experimental Theatre Club, 1969]), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1970.

Where Has Tommy Flowers Gone? (also see below; first produced in New Haven, CT, at Yale University Theater, 1971; produced Off-Broadway at Eastside Playhouse, 1971), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1972.

Bad Habits (also see below; two one-acts; contains Ravenswood and Dunelawn; first produced in East Hampton, NY, 1971; produced on Broadway at Booth Theatre, 1974), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1974.

Let It Bleed, produced as part of City Stops, New York, NY, 1972.

Whiskey (also see below; one-act; first produced Off-Broadway at St. Clement's Church, 1973), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1973.

The Tubs, first produced in New Haven, CT, at Yale University Theater, 1974, revised version produced as The Ritz (also see below), first produced on Broadway at Longacre Theatre, 1975.

The Golden Age, produced in New York, NY, 1975.

The Ritz and Other Plays (contains The Ritz, Where Has Tommy Flowers Gone?, Bad Habits, And Things That Go Bump in the Night, Whiskey, and Bringing It All Back Home), Dodd (New York, NY), 1977.

Broadway, Broadway, produced in East Hampton, NY, 1979.

The Lisbon Traviata (broadcast, 1979; produced in New York, NY, 1985), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1986.

It's Only a Play: A Comedy (produced in New York, NY, 1982), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1986.

(Author of book) The Rink: A New Musical (produced in New York, NY, 1984), music by John Kander, Samuel French (New York, NY), 1985.

Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune (first produced in New York, NY, 1987; revived on Broadway, 2002), Plume (New York, NY), 1990.

Faith (produced in New York, NY, 1988), published in Faith, Hope, and Charity, Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1989.

Prelude and Liebstod (also see below), produced in New York, NY, 1989.

Up in Saratoga, produced in San Diego, CA, 1989.

(Author of book) Kiss of the Spider Woman (adaptation of the novel by Manuel Puig; first produced in Purchase, NY, 1990; produced on Broadway, 1993), music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, Samuel French (New York, NY), 1997.

Three Plays (contains The Lisbon Traviata, Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune, and It's Only a Play), New American Library (New York, NY), 1990.

Preludes, Fugues, and Rifts, 1991.

Lips Together, Teeth Apart (first produced Off-Broadway at Manhattan Theatre Club, 1991), Plume/Penguin (New York, NY), 1992.

A Perfect Ganesh (also see below; first produced off-Broadway at Manhattan Theatre Club, 1993), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1994.

Love! Valour! Compassion! (first produced Off-Broadway at Manhattan Theatre Club, 1994; produced on Broadway at the Walter Kerr Theatre, 1995), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1995.

Terrence McNally: Fifteen Short Plays, Smith and Kraus (Newbury, VT), 1994.

You and Hugh (musical for children), music by Robert Kapilow, produced in New York, NY, 1994.

Love! Valour! Compassion! and A Perfect Ganesh: Two Plays, Plume (New York, NY), 1995.

Andre's Mother, and Other Short Plays, Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1995.

Master Class (first produced on Broadway at the Golden Theater, 1995), Plume (New York, NY), 1996.

Dusk (one-act; produced as part of By the Sea, by the Sea, by the Beautiful Sea), produced Off-Broadway at Manhattan Theatre Club, 1996.

(Author of book) Ragtime, music by Steven Flaherty, produced at Ford Center for the Performing Arts, New York, NY, 1997.

Corpus Christi (first produced in New York, NY, 1998), Grove Press (New York, NY), 1998.

Dead Man Walking (musical adaptation of the book by Sister Helen Prejean), produced in San Francisco, CA, at War Memorial Opera House, 2000.

(Author of book) The Full Monty (adaptation of Simon Beaufoy's screenplay; first produced on Broadway at the Eugene O'Neill Theater, 2000), music and lyrics by David Yazbek, published as The Full Monty: The Complete Book and Lyrics of the Hit Broadway Musical, Applause Theatre & Cinema Books (New York, NY), 2002.

The Visit, produced in Chicago, IL, at Goodman Theater, 2001.

A Man of No Importance (musical; based on film of same title), with new music by Stephen Flaherty, first produced at Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, Lincoln Center, 2002.

The Stendhal Syndrome (two one-acts; contains Full Frontal Nudity and Prelude & Liebstod; produced in New York, NY, 2004), Grove Press (New York, NY), 2004.


The Ritz (based on McNally's play of same title), Warner Bros., 1977.

Frankie and Johnny (based on McNally's play Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune), Paramount, 1991.

Love! Valor! Compassion! (based on McNally's play of same title), Fine Line Features, 1994.


Botticelli, 1968.

Last Gasps, 1969.

(Adapter) John Cheever, The 5:48, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), 1979.

Mama Malone (series), 1983.

"Andre's Mother," American Playhouse (series), PBS, 1990.

"Mr. Roberts," Common Ground (series), Showtime, 2000.


Terrence McNally is considered by many to be one of the pillars of contemporary American theater. Discussing McNally with a writer for Vogue magazine, William Finn was quoted as commenting: "What I think is most extraordinary about him is the way he's made a career. His early things were really entertaining, but he's become an artist, and he's a real role model for playwrights. He's gotten better. Unlike most people, he saved his best for last." The image of McNally as a seasoned veteran of the theater, producing better and better plays while helping along rookie writers through example and mentorship is fitting. McNally wrote his first play, the adaptation The Lady of the Camellias, in 1963, when he was in his early twenties. Since then he has continued to achieve increasing critical and popular success, as well as serving the theater world by serving as vice president of the Dramatists Guild and helping to launch a playwriting department at New York's prestigious Juilliard School. In between, his own work achieved critical and popular success, earning the author multiple Tony awards.

McNally was born in St. Petersburg, Florida, on November 3, 1939, and he was raised in Corpus Christi, Texas. McNally was a lonely child, and he often spent time listening to radio programs such as The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet, as well as broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera. He built a miniature model of the Metropolitan and acted out scenes on its stage. McNally's parents encouraged his interest in theater and music, taking him to his first Broadway show, Annie Get Your Gun, while visiting New York City in 1946. McNally began collecting cast recordings of musicals and operas, and in high school he wrote a play based on the life of composer George Gershwin. According to James Fisher, writing in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, "McNally's love of music runs through virtually all of his works—operatic arias, especially, are called for in many of his scripts and the love of opera and operatic performers is central to his major works."

McNally enrolled at Columbia University in 1956, where he majored in journalism. In 1960 he graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a bachelor of arts degree. He also received the school's Henry Evans traveling fellowship and spent several months in Mexico, where he wrote a long one-act play. McNally sent the play to the Actors Studio in New York City, where it caught the attention of Molly Kazan, wife of film director Elia Kazan. She offered McNally a job as a stage manager, and he soon became acquainted with figures such as Edward Albee, Lee Strasberg, and Geraldine Page. Fisher noted that McNally also learned "about the roles of playwright, actor, director, designer, and particularly about dramatic structure; he began to apply his increased knowledge to his own writings." The connections he made at the Actors Studio served McNally well; in 1961 he accepted a job as a private tutor for the children of award-winning author John Steinbeck, and he toured the world with the Steinbeck family.

Begins Career as a Playwright

Upon his return to the United States, McNally garnered some attention for his short play This Side of the Door, which received the Stanley Award. He then adapted The Lady of the Camellias for director Franco Zefferelli, earning the playwright his first Broadway credit. McNally later revised This Side of the Door as And Things That Go Bump in the Night, which was produced on Broadway in 1965. The work was not well received, however, and a devastated McNally left playwriting for a short time. At the urging of friends, however, he began writing one-act plays, including Sweet Eros and Witness, both of which were staged in 1968. According to Fisher, "These two one-acts were especially timely for the late 1960s, focusing on the profound impact of social upheaval on some troubled youths." Fisher also noted that McNally's "mastery of the one-act form is obvious in his plays of this period, and the content of the plays evokes the attitudes and conflicts of the time."

One of McNally's most frequently produced one-act plays, the comedy Next, made its New York debut in 1969. That same year McNally was a runner-up for the Drama Desk Award for most promising playwright, and in 1970 he received a Guggenheim fellowship. His 1971 work Bad Habits—consisting of the one-act skits Ravenswood and Dunelawn, each of which takes place in a sanitarium—is characterized by a "non-stop hilarity" that is derived from the author's "amused fascination with obsessive behavior," according to Cue contributor Marilyn Stasio. "Although both plays are casually structured," the critic noted, "the character satire is dead-on accurate, and for all its zaniness has a niceness of logical clarity that is akin to classical farce."

Bad Habits prompted Nation reviewer Harold Clurman to dub McNally "one of the most adept practitioners of the comedy of insult.… Both plays [in Bad Habits] aim their shafts at institutions for the treatment of psychological disturbances—'encounter groups.' … [They] are spoofs and at times quite funny.… But there is no real criticism in them: the grotesquerie of the jokes supersedes all. These, in turn, are based on a strain of generalized dislike.… We laught of ree ourselves from what is implied."

New Yorker contributor Edith Oliver characterized Ravenswood as "virtually plotless. It is a mosaic of edged funny lines that, however far out, always belong to the characters who speak them and to nobody else. The playwright does go overboard from time to time—he is a little too clever, in the British, pejorative sense—but that, I suppose, is the price of his fertile, pell-mell imagination. Ravenswood is vintage McNally; Dunelawn is not quite … but a lot of it is very funny all the same.… There are other spots, though, that seem forced or somewhat off-key or just catty." John Simon commented in New York that McNally is one of just a few playwrights who has enough courage to be truly nasty; the critic maintained that "both Ravenswood and Dunelawn go on a bit too long, and in both McNally succumbs to his chronic weakness, the inability to find the right ending. [Nevertheless, this is McNally] at his sick, mean, absurd yet purposive best, vicious crack topping vicious crack in the most demurely trotted-out fashion.… You can call these plays unwholesome, inhuman—whatever you like—but not undazzling or unfunny."

String of Successes

In 1975 McNally received honors from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the National Institute of Arts and Letters for The Ritz. The Ritz, a play a Time contributor described as "a bedlam of straight-gay confrontations" between visitors to a homosexual bathhouse, is also a fairly typical McNally play. Stasio called it "a classic farce in modern (un)dress.… Instead of drawing rooms and ladies' boudoirs, the scene is a male bathhouse; and the inevitable philandering husband … dallies with boys instead of dollies. But the structural mechanics are classical—mistaken identity, chase scenes, a network of doors to open and slam." Though the reviewer maintained that "McNally's humor is genuine and often original," she concluded that "its farce outlets just aren't sufficiently mathematical, subtle, or imaginative to sustain what is still a very bright idea."

Six of McNally's plays reached New York stages in the 1980s. Among them was The Lisbon Traviata, a full-length tragic comedy about two gay men obsessed with opera diva Maria Callas and, more particularly, an obscure pirated recording of a production of La Traviata performed by Callas in Lisbon. The first act of the play is comic, and set in the rich, baroque-style apartment of Mendy, an eccentric opera buff, once married, who admits that "Callas was named in my divorce for alienation of affections." The second, more serious act takes place in the apartment of Stephen, Mendy's Callas cohort, who returns home to find his lover with a younger man. The play ends violently.

Critics found the bifurcated structure of The Lisbon Traviata somewhat troubling, but nevertheless praised McNally's characterization and dialogue. Writing in the New York Times, Mel Gussow observed that in the play McNally "has written the theatrical equivalent of an operatic double bill—an opera bouffe followed by a tragic dénouement." Gussow admired the playwright's grasp of his subject, stating, "One does not have to be a music critic to appreciate Mr. McNally's wit and his encyclopedic knowledge of the art form [opera] under scrutiny." A Variety reviewer asked playgoers to "imagine a revival of the first act of The Boys in the Band and the last of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and you'll have a sense of the dual artistic personality of The Lisbon Traviata. Terrence McNally's new play is a sort of chiaroscuro study of gay obsessions and relationships. The funny first half is very funny indeed, but the somber second act doesn't work."

McNally's 1987 romantic comedy, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, was described by New Yorker reviewer Terrence Rafferty as "a long sparring match, a comic clash between sharply opposed attitudes toward romantic love—Johnny's let's-do-it optimism versus Frankie's stubborn, defensive pessimism." Frankie is a waitress in a New York coffee shop where Johnny tends the grill. After a quick date that ends with the two of them in Frankie's bed, Johnny tries every imaginable ploy to convince her they are meant for one another. As Rafferty noted, "He bombards her with charm, jokes, romantic rhetoric, quotations from Shakespeare, autobiographical pathos, beautiful music, and heartfelt (though not terribly rigorous) philosophizing. He's the most eclectic and exhausting suitor imaginable, and he's too much for Frankie, who's determined not to expose herself to the pain and uncertainty of a serious relationship." In the end, Frankie and Johnny's future is left uncertain, though in the final act of brushing their teeth together there rests some hope for domesticity.

Following the popular stage version of Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, McNally helped adapt his play for film as Frankie and Johnny. Time reviewer David Denby found the film—starring Michele Pfeiffer and Al Pacino—to be "no more than a bittersweet valentine to a man who's desperate for love and a woman who's afraid of it, but it's been made with so much sympathy, delicacy, and true intelligence that it's a triumph of sorts—a gallantly hopeful commercial comedy about love in the age of AIDS and the VCR." In addition, the stage drama retained its popularity; in 2003, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune won a Tony Award for best revival of a play.

The momentum McNally built during the 1980s swung him solidly into the 1990s with a string of successes. In 1991 his Lips Together, Teeth Apart opened at the Manhattan Theatre Club, a frequent stop for plays on their way to Broadway houses. The play concerns two affluent couples spending a Fourth-of-July weekend at the Fire Island beach house left to one of the women by a brother who died of AIDS. The setting raises many troubling issues for members of the group, including confronting the potential failure of marriage, feelings of homophobia, and the capriciousness of death.

Reviewing Lips Together, Teeth Apart for the New York Times, Frank Rich proclaimed that "the bright wit that has always marked Mr. McNally's writing and the wrenching sorrow that has lately invaded it are blended deftly throughout three concurrently funny and melancholy acts. The evening's moods are as far-ranging as its allusions to A Star Is Born and Virginia Woolf and as changeable as its incidental score, which runs from the show-biz cacophony of [the Broadway musical] Gypsy to the serenity of [Wolfgang Mozart's opera] Cosi Fan Tutte."

Tony Award Winners

Death looms over McNally's 1992 musical collaboration based on Manuel Puig's novel Kiss of the Spider Woman, which premiered in London to rave reviews. It is the story of two men sharing a prison cell in an unnamed Latin-American country. Molina is a homosexual window dresser arrested for attempting to sexually molest a young man. Imprisoned with him is Valentin, a revolutionary jailed for trying to overthrow his country's oppressive regime. Against a backdrop of beating, torture, and murder the men learn to support one another. For his part, Molina draws a sense of optimism by reciting his fantasies of Aurora, a famous movie actress. He recounts her roles to Valentin in their darkest hours and Aurora—also known as the Spider Woman—joins the men in their cell, dancing and singing and luring them dreamily away from their nightmarish reality.

In Time, William A. Henry III called Kiss of the Spider Woman "the most rousing and moving musical to reach the West End since Miss Saigon." Edith Oliver admitted in the New Yorker, "To burst into tears at a musical just isn't done, but I confess that I did at Kiss of the Spider Woman because of the beautiful performance of Brent Carver as a homosexual window dresser … and because of the distinguished script, by Terrence McNally." For his script, McNally was awarded a Tony Award for best book of a musical in 1993.

The 1993 to 1994 theater season also saw two more McNally premieres at the Manhattan Theatre Club. A Perfect Ganesh, the story of two middle-aged Connecticut women touring India under the protectorship of the Hindu god Ganesha, and Love! Valour! Compassion!, an account of the lives and relationships of eight gay men who holiday at an upstate New York country house, were each successfully staged. Of the two plays, Love! Valour! Compassion! met with greater success and won the Tony Award for best play in 1995. Still, reviews were mixed. In the Nation, David Kaufman lauded the play, saying, "For the ways in which it's told no less than for what it has to say, Love! Valour! Compassion! is a remarkably Chekhovian work—which is to say vital and capacious, extremely natural yet poetic and crafted at the same time." John Simon, however, found the work to be too formulaic. Writing in New York he complained: "I am struck … by the manipulativeness and meretriciousness of the enterprise, what with its eyedropper-calculated dosage of campy bitchiness, homosexual self-pity, and male

[Image not available for copyright reasons]

nudity in artful rotation.… With the obligatory references to AIDS introduced at cannily calibrated distances from one another, and the trusty clichés given each its dollop of McNally wit … everything moves forward with the spontaneity of the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace."

In 1996 McNally achieved a rare feat: Master Class, his biographical play about legendary opera diva Maria Callas, won a Tony Award for best play, McNally's second year in a row to earn that honor. On the surface Master Class depicts a series of master voice classes Callas conducted at Juilliard in the early 1970s, at the end of her career. Three students—two sopranos and a tenor—step forward from the audience to learn from the celebrated master. Underneath, however, the play probes humankind's need for creative expression and the costs and rewards that accompany a lifetime of artistic pursuit. In a review for Newsweek, Jack Kroll dubbed the play "a profile in courage," while Vince Canby wrote in the New York Times that "McNally's achievement has been to take the legendary Callas, the somewhat camp Judy Garland figure of grand opera, and restore to the woman a sense of her passion and intelligence and the singularity of her gifts." However, another New York Times reviewer, Margo Jefferson, felt the playwright's depiction of the singer in Master Class does not rise above caricature. "McNally wrote expressively and intensely about Callas fans in The Lisbon Traviata, "Jefferson noted. "Why is he writing so glibly about Callas herself? It seems that he does fans better than he does artists."

McNally has also been successful in penning musicals adapted from films, among them Dead Man Walking and The Full Monty. The former is based on the memoir of Sister Helen Prejean, a nun assigned as the spiritual counselor to a murderer on death row in Louisiana. In McNally's musical version, the focus is less on the murderer's journey from denial to repentance than it is on the ways in which Sister Prejean is transformed by her association with Joseph de Rocher, the murderer. According to Time reviewer Terry Teachout, "She has grown immeasurably by opera's end through her unflinching acceptance of the implications of De Rocher's monstrous act." The Full Monty, a much more lighthearted story, concerns a group of unemployed steelworkers who try to raise money by working as strippers.

Religious Drama Stirs Debate

McNally stirred up considerable controversy in 2001 with his dramatic retelling of the gospels, set in Corpus Christi, Texas, during the 1950s. In CorpusChristi, the Christ figure, renamed Joshua, and his disciples are gay characters existing in a hostile environment. Joshua dies, ultimately, "for both his sexuality and his message of universal love and tolerance," stated Ed Kaufman in Hollywood Reporter. Kaufman termed the musical "brash, bold, and thoughtful" and commended McNally for his ability to blend "onstage shtick with sentiment, the raunchy with the religious." Other critics were put off by what they perceived as McNally's sermonizing. Corpus Christi "is about McNally bending the story of Christ's tale to advance his view that homosexuals are endlessly persecuted," claimed Evan Henerson in the Los Angeles Daily News. Madeleine Shaner concurred in Back Stage West, writing that Corpus Christi is "not a very good play; it's a mere in-your-face gay Sunday-school version of the Bible story, with the motivation, the history, the activism, the courageous rebellion of the chosen Messiah left out." A more favorable opinion was expressed by Philip Brandes, who advised readers in the Los Angeles Times that those "willing to contemplate the issues raised by the play (and overlook its at times considerable pretensions) will find some powerful depictions of the very real alienation and prejudice endured by social outcasts."

McNally's play The Stendhal Syndrome opened in 2004 to mixed reviews. The title refers to a swooning reaction to a great work of art or music, a reaction once described by French novelist Marie-Henri Beyle, who wrote under the name Stendhal. The play features two thematically linked one-acts: Full Frontal Nudity tells the story of an American tour group in Florence viewing Michelangelo's David, while Prelude and Liebestod focuses on a famous conductor reflecting on his life as he conducts an orchestra performing pieces from Wagner's Tristan. "The pairing of playlets," explained Don Shewey in the Advocate, "has an ironic point to make about art appreciation: Visual and musical masterpieces offer us an opportunity to make contact with forces of nature, history, and human achievement at its highest level, yet all too often we forfeit that opportunity by obsessing about trivia (What's for lunch?) or reducing everything to the level of me, myself, and iPod."

If you enjoy the works of Terrence McNally

you may also want to check out the following plays:

Mart Crowley, Boys in the Band, 1968.

Harvey Fierstein, Torch Song Trilogy, 1981.

Larry Kramer, The Normal Heart, 1985.

"From the title," wrote Brendan Lemon in the Financial Times, "we suspect that the story will explore the unbalancing aspects of extreme beauty, and in this regard the … two thematically linked one-acts do not disappoint." Lemon found Prelude and Liebenstod the "more startling" of the two because "it presents the aesthetic theme more intensely." However, he also noted that McNally's "language is so overheated that the effect is diminished." Hollywood Reporter reviewer Frank Scheck described The Stendhal Syndrome as "not a major work from the writer of such plays as Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune and Master Class, but it does have resonant moments." Advocate contributor Shewey added that, in crafting the play, McNally went "the lowest-common-denominator route." Charles Isherwood, writing in Variety, commented that the two one-acts "could almost be compared to a slash of graffiti scrawled across an Old Master painting" and concluded: "McNally's themes—the profound distance between the heights that man can achieve and the depths in which he invariable dwells; the painful ecstasy that art, in its superhuman perfecting, can inspire—are obviously worthy ones. But their treatment is sadly superficial."

In 2004, McNally received the Helen Hayes Tribute at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, an award presented for his significant contribution to the American theater. "The theatre is something to give your life to," the playwright once related to Richard Alleman in Vogue. "It gives your life value and joy.… Just stick it out like I did.… I don't think we in the theatre can change the world, but I think we can leave it a better and a different place than it was if we hadn't written our plays and acted in them. It's exciting, too—that you have to be there. It's like a good party. You can't hear about a party. You want to be at the party. And the theatre's the party I want to be at."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Bigsby, C. W. E., Modern American Drama: 1945-2000, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 2000.

Bryer, Jackson R., editor, The Playwright's Art: Conversations with Contemporary American Playwrights, Rutgers University Press (New Brunswick, NJ), 1995.

Contemporary American Dramatists, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1994.

Contemporary Dramatists, 6th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 4, 1975, Volume 7, 1977, Volume 41, 1987, Volume 91, 1996.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 7: Twentieth-Century American Dramatists, 1981, Volume 249: Twentieth-Century American Dramatists, Third Series, 2001.

DiGaetani, John L., editor, A Search for a Postmodern Theatre: Interviews with Contemporary Playwrights, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1991.

Duberman, Martin, editor, Queer Representations: Reading Lives, Reading Cultures, New York University Press (New York, NY), 1997.

Gay and Lesbian Literature, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1994.

King, Kimball, editor, Modern Dramatists: A Casebook of Major British, Irish, and American Playwrights, Routledge (New York, NY), 2001.

Kolin, Philip C., American Playwrights since 1945: A Guide to Scholarship, Criticism, and Performance, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1989.

Kolin, Philip C., and Colby Kullman, editors, Speaking on Stage: Interviews with Contemporary American Playwrights, University of Alabama Press (Tuscaloosa, AL), 1996.

The Playwright's Voice: American Dramatists on Memory, Writing, and the Politics of Culture, Theatre Communications (New York, NY), 1999.

Zinman, Toby Silverman, editor, Terrence McNally: A Casebook, Garland (New York, NY), 1997.


Advocate, April 15, 1997, pp. 31-34; March 3, 1998, pp. 60-61; March 30, 2004, Don Shewey, "Culture Clunk: The Stendhal Syndrome Artlessly Revives Two Terrence McNally Playlets about Our Reaction to Art," p. 58.

America, August 14, 1993, p. 22; November 20, 1993, p. 21; June 17, 1995, p. 31; February 17, 1996, p. 30; March 28, 1998, pp. 21-22.

American Literature, March, 1995, Toby Silverman Zinman, "The Muses of Terrence McNally," pp. 12-17; September, 1995, David Román and Alberto Sandoval, "Caught in the Web," pp. 553-585; September, 1998, Ben Cameron, "Attack Mode," p. 6

American Theatre, March, 1995, pp. 12-17; November, 1998, pp. 25-26; December, 1998, pp. 64-67; September, 2001, Rebecca Paller, review of The Full Monty, p. 92.

Back Stage, November 10, 2000, Irene Backalenick, review of The Full Monty, p. 48; May 18, 2001, Mike Salinas, "Hammerstein Award to McNally," p. 6.

Back Stage West, August 23, 2001, Madeleine Shaner, review of Corpus Christi, p. 15.

Chicago Tribune, October 4, 2001, Sid Smith, review of The Visit.

Cue, January 14, 1974; February 11, 1974.

Daily News (Los Angeles, CA), August 24, 2001, Evan Henerson, review of Corpus Christi, p. L17.

Entertainment Weekly, November 24, 1995, p. 65; May 23, 1997, p. 45; November 21, 1997, p. 142; February 13, 1998, pp. 60-61; October 23, 1998, p. 65; March 12, 2004, review of The Stendhal Syndrome, p. 122.

Financial Times, February 19, 2004, Brendan Lemon, review of The Stendhal Syndrome, p. 10.

Hollywood Reporter, September 7, 2001, Ed Kaufman, review of Corpus Christi, p. 42; February 20, 2004, Frank Scheck, review of The Stendhal Syndrome, p. 16.

Lambda Book Report, November, 1999, James Currier, "A Dramatic Crucifixion," p. 27.

Los Angeles Times, August 24, 2001, Philip Brandes, review of Corpus Christi, p. F25.

Modern Drama, December, 1993, Benilde Montgomery, "Lips Together, Teeth Apart: Another Version of Pastoral," pp. 547-555.

Nation, March 2, 1974; December 19, 1994, pp. 774-776.

New Criterion, December, 1998, Mark Steyn, "'Corpus' Delecti," p. 49; December, 2002, Mark Steyn, "No Vital Sparks," pp. 50-54.

New Leader, February 13, 1995, p. 23; December 18, 1995, pp. 31-32; January, 2001, Stefan Kanfer, "The New Season," p. 41.

New Republic, March 1, 1975; November 11, 1991, pp. 30-31; August 23, 1993, pp. 31-33; April 3, 1995, pp. 30-32; February 5, 1996, pp. 27-28; June 9, 1997, pp. 30-31; November, 1998, Robert Brustein, review of Corpus Christi, p. 34.

New Statesman, April 7, 2003, Sheridan Morley, "Leaving Las Vegas," p. 46.

Newsweek, February 10, 1975; November 13, 1995, p. 85; November 6, 2000, p. 81.

New York, October 25, 1971; February 18, 1974; May 27, 1974; February 3, 1975; October 14, 1991, p. 84; May 17, 1993, p. 103; February 27, 1995, pp. 115-117.

New Yorker, February 18, 1974; February 3, 1975; October 21, 1991, pp. 125-128; May 24, 1993, p. 104; July 12, 1993, p. 95; November 14, 1994, pp. 129-131; November 27, 1995, pp. 109-111.

New York Post, October 17, 2001, "In the Wings," p. 77.

New York Times, January 24, 1971; December 8, 1971; July 6, 1978; October 28, 1987, p. C23; June 2, 1988, p. C23; December 21, 1988, p. C32; June 7, 1989, p. C21; June 26, 1991, pp. C11, C13; August 29, 1993, pp. 1, 5; November 6, 1995, pp. C11, C13; November 12, 1995, pp. 5, 36; June 1, 1996, p. 12; October 31, 1999, "Prescriptions for a Troubled Patient: The Theater," pp. 1, 6; May 20, 2001, Jerry Tallmer, "A Couple of Regular Guys Bonding, On-stage and Off," p. 11; August 9, 2002, Ben Brantley, "Going from Sex to Intimacy," p. E1; October 11, 2002, Ben Brantley, "Not Just a Nobody, He's a Wilde Man," p. E1.

New York Times Book Review, August 23, 1998, review of Almost Home, p. 16.

Opera News, September, 2000, David J. Baker, "Faith Healer," p. 50.

People, May 26, 1997, pp. 25-26.

TheaterWeek, February 27, 1995, pp. 12-24.

Time, October 18, 1971; February 3, 1975; November 30, 1992, p. 78; July 12, 1993, p. 60; August 23, 1993, p. 73; June 30, 1997, p. 77; October 5, 1998, p. 86; August 9, 1999, Terry Teachout, "All-Star Lineup," p. 70; October 23, 2000, Terry Teachout, review of Dead Man Walking, p. 84.

U.S. News & World Report, June 15, 1998, p. 17.

Variety, October 20, 1971; February 3, 1997, pp. 45-46; June 23, 1997, p. 102; August 31, 1998, p. 102; October 19, 1998, p. 84; November 16, 1998, p. 45; October 30, 2000, Charles Isherwood, review of The Full Monty, p. 32; August 12, 2002, Charles Isherwood, "Lively Perfs Trim a Tale of Lonely Hearts," pp. 26-27; February 3, 2003, Charles Isherwood, "New Frankie and Johnny Battle over Their Future," p. 42; February 23, 2004, Charles Isherwood, review of The Stendahl Syndrome, p. 44.

Vogue, May, 1995, pp. 152, 154.

Washington Blade, April 30, 2004, Patrick Folliard, "The Amazing McNally: Gay Playwright Terrence McNally Honored with Helen Hayes Tribute."


Playbill Online, (November 10, 2004), "Terrence McNally."

Public Broadcasting System, (November 2, 1998), "Great Performances: Creating Ragtime "; (November 10, 2004) "And Then One Night: The Making of Dead Man Walking. "*

About this article

McNally, Terrence

Updated About content Print Article