BY LYNNE MEADOW
In reading Lynne Meadow’s account of the years between 1984 and l998 when the Manhattan Theatre Club was Terrence McNally’s artistic home I was struck with Lynne’s statement “He used the commitment I had made to him as a passport to artistic freedom, as a way to create with abandon. . .” and yes indeed, that period of time gave us nine world premieres of Terrence’s work! Extraordinary!
Terrence could create “with abandon” without having to spend his time with endless script submissions, readings, workshops, and attempts to get his work in front of decision makers in theatres around the country. He had a home, and he had an artistic director who was committed to him. His artistry flourished because he could focus on the work itself. We are the lucky recipients of that collaboration.
Terrence knew the value of relationships in the theatre and he nurtured these relationships with care. He knew these relationships are necessary because theatre is a collaborative art, and we cannot make it on our own. He developed strong bonds with actors, directors, producers, and other writers. He was a friend and mentor. He wrote notes of encouragement, he left long rambling phone messages to buck up someone’s spirits, he waited backstage after a performance to congratulate a friend in the cast, he saluted others’ achievements, he shared his wisdom. He was generous. People wanted to work with him because of the brilliance of his writing, yes, but also because everyone who worked with him felt appreciated and cherished. This is how Terrence created a “home” in the theatre.
– GRETCHEN CRYER
My artistic collaboration with Terrence began in 1984. Director John Tillinger gave me the script of It’s Only A Play, Terrence’s bittersweet valentine to the theatre, and I agreed that the Manhattan Theatre Club would produce the play in our 300-seat theatre to open in December of that year. Jimmy Coco was already cast, and we introduced Terrence to Christine Baranski to play the leading role. In previews, the audiences loved the show, but Terrence, who had worked for years on the play, was very anxious about possible critics’ reactions. The night before press performances began, he and I were standing backstage before the show started, and I reiterated to him how much I loved the play. “Whatever the response, Terrence—positive, negative, indifferent—I commit to producing your next play.”
Terrence would go on to say some time later, “It was the best Christmas present I ever received.”
Not long after, when we met in my office to discuss his ideas for the new play, he told me that it was set off the coast of Maine in the 19th century and was loosely based on a lesser-known Shakespearean play. Without showing him my anxiety about our limited budget, as I contemplated a huge cast, lavish period costumes, and many sets, I answered, “Great!”
Three months later, he showed up in my office with the first act of a two-character play set in the late ‘80s in a bedroom in Hell’s Kitchen in New York City with the female lead wearing only a bathrobe. (Needless to say, my fears were allayed—that costume budget was not exorbitant!) The play was Frankie and Johnny in the Clair De Lune and Terrence was thrilled when I asked Kathy Bates to play the leading lady and she accepted immediately. The play opened our new 150-seat Stage II theatre in the spring of 1986, and that fall, we transferred it next door to our 300- seat theatre. Our production then moved to the West Side Theatre for an extended commercial run.
After Frankie and Johnny, Terrence would go on to write seven more world premieres for MTC over the next ten years. He used the commitment I had made to him as a passport to artistic freedom, as a way to create with abandon, to challenge himself by taking greater and greater risks, to explore the variety of subjects most important and dear to him, to avoid any need to recreate a previous success or shy away from controversial subjects, to write from his heart of his passions and his demons—it was a fertile, expansive, and luminous time for him, for me, for all of us who worked at MTC, and for the audiences who came with excitement to see a new Terrence McNally play at MTC almost every year. It was a time during which he created a trove of varied and marvelous plays and cemented his confidence and voice as a major American playwright. Terrence McNally’s plays will continue to endure in the canon of American theatre and be performed for years to come across the country.
Here are some examples of the range of MTC’s McNally premieres:
1984 It’s Only a Play, a love letter to the theatre with bite, starring Christine Baranski, James Coco, Joanna Gleason, and Mark Blum
1987Frankie and Johnny in the Clair De Lune, about the intense longing of two lonely souls with Kathy Bates and F. Murray Abraham, and then Kenneth Welsh
1988 Andre’s Mother, a magnificent portrait of loss and denial, which would go on to be played on television by Maureen Stapleton
1989 The Lisbon Traviata, an operatic and comedic tragedy starring Nathan Lane, John Slattery, and Anthony Heald
1991- 1992 Lips Together, Teeth Apart, a dark comedy of marriage set on Fire Island on the landscape of the AIDS epidemic, written especially for Nathan Lane, Christine Baranski, Swoosie Kurtz, and Anthony Heald
1993 A Perfect Ganesh, about two mothers on a trip to India uncovering long-buried secrets about their relationships to their sons, written especially for Zoe Caldwell, with Frances Sternhagen, Fisher Stevens, and Dominic Cuskern
1994- 1995 Love! Valour! Compassion!, Terrence’s Tony Award-winning and theme-uniting portrait of seven gay men at a weekend home in the Berkshires with John Benjamin Hickey, John Glover, Stephen Bogardus, Nathan Lane, Justin Kirk, Randy Becker, and Stephen Spinella
1998Corpus Christi, a re-imagining of the story of The Last Supper through a turn-of-the-century lens with Michael C. Hall, Josh Lucas, Jeremy Shamos, and Christopher Fitzgerald, among many others
I have so many recollections of events during the decade and a half that Terrence spent at MTC:
✷ Standing on a stage with him to receive the Tony Award for Best Play for Love! Valour! Compassion! presented by Lauren Bacall. As we walked offstage after receiving the award, Lauren looked at me and said, “Do you think Terrence would write a play for me?”
✷ Huddled in the tiny costume shop at intermission for It’s Only a Play, making cuts to the first act that would go in during the next day’s rehearsal.
✷ Sitting in the back row of our Stage I at New York City Center between Terrence and Joey Tillinger during previews of Lips Together debating about a rewrite for Nathan’s shower scene with Christine.
✷ My calling Zoe Caldwell because Terrence worshipped her to ask if she’d consider playing a role in a new play he was creating for her.
✷ Terrence sitting across from me at my desk, there to talk about a new play. He took out a file card and wrote down three words: “Love. Valour. Compassion.” “Okay?” he asked. “Yep,” I answered.
✷ Going to a 7 AM breakfast meeting at Morgan Stanley on a fundraising foray with Terrence, when he opened the meeting by telling fifteen investment bankers around the conference room table that one of the main reasons he’d become a playwright was so he didn’t have to get up so early in the morning.
I could go on and on. So, suffice it to conclude with the following:
The day after Terrence died this past March, I called Nathan Lane to commiserate. “He’s gone,” Nathan said. “And there will never be another one like him.” Terrence’s muse, the amazing and wonderful Nathan Lane, expressed EXACTLY what I was feeling.
- LYNNE MEADOW
Artistic Director, MTC
There was the friendship and there was the collaboration, though which came first I can’t really remember. There was all that sad love pouring out of A Perfect Ganesh. There was all that compassion. There was the guilty pleasure Fred and I took in taking Terrence’s most beautiful paragraphs and turning them into song. There was a magnificent Parsifal in London that we shared and wept over. And on and on. There were joyful talks of future projects.
I am so angry that he’s gone... and so grateful he was here!
– JOHN KANDER
Terrence’s friendship and collaboration colored, invigorated, infuriated, charmed, thrilled, awed, and enriched my life for 25 years and four shows. His intellect and experience were stunning, but he was never intimidating. He was generous in surrendering his greatest speeches to the songwriters, and always excited to hear the songs we made of them. Did we quarrel? Oh, yes. Over commas, even. Did we reconcile? Always. As the pandemic arrived, we just missed one another—me leaving Sarasota, he arriving. I wanted so much to hear his thoughts on my new show, to have dinner with him, to make toasts, to spend time. His passing left a sudden, terrible space in my heart and in my work. To paraphrase one of his lines from Ragtime: “You will always be in my thoughts. I have always loved and admired you.”
– LYNN AHRENS
I was fortunate to have known and collaborated with Terrence closely over the past 26 years. With my writing partner, Lynn Ahrens, we worked closely with Terrence on three Broadway musicals, one Broadway revival, and a musical for Lincoln Center Theatre. He was a dream collaborator and a true friend. Terrence was warm, funny, perpetually curious, often challenging, and ultimately cared more about how you were doing as a person in your daily life than in what project you were currently wrestling with. He wanted you to be the best you could be, not just the show. If you were at your best, the shows would follow suit. Thanks for teaching me that, Terrence. I miss and celebrate you daily.
– STEPHEN FLAHERTY
Terrence was a treasured and beloved friend, and also a valued colleague. As a member of the Dramatists Guild Council, he was fierce in his dedication to the rights of playwrights, while being unfailingly generous and good-humored. Among his towering achievements as a playwright, opera librettist, and writer of books for musical theatre, I think I am most in awe of his book for Ragtime which, in so brilliantly solving what seems an impossible challenge of structure, is to me an achievement that borders on the miraculous.
– STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
I didn’t get to be Terrence’s lifelong friend until fairly recently. With Terrence that is not an oxymoron. Aside from his extraordinary gifts as a playwright, was his extraordinary generosity of spirit, which made people he cared for, whether he knew you for years or, like me, befriended in the last seven years or so, feel special, valued, even beloved as an artist and person. I know I am one of many he made feel that way, whether friend or co-worker.
In the last few years of his life, he discovered the app Marco Polo and my morning might be blessed by a generous video missive from Terrence in Florida with sometimes terrible lighting, camera angles, talking about all manner of things—mostly, how lovely it was to be able to connect.
A couple of years ago, he and I discussed the possibility of writing a musical about my late father Adolph Green, his partner Betty Comden, and their experience as ‘young kids’ in the 1940s—along with their pal Leonard Bernstein— of writing their first musical On The Town. We met and discussed it over lunches and dinners. It was heady and exciting. Ultimately though, the task of competing with their songs, and, even more, the weight of trying to catch their voices with what felt like authenticity, proved too much for me. I realized I couldn’t go through with it. With trepidation, I made a date with Terrence to tell him. How could I turn down an opportunity to work with Terrence F’ing McNally? How would he react? No sooner had I told him how I felt, then he jumped in with, “Then you mustn’t do it! We mustn’t do it!” I was immensely relieved and grateful. We then spent an hour or two throwing out other ideas we might pursue. The Life of Sarah Bernhardt? I left him and bought the biographies he recommended. The next day I got an email from Terrence telling me how classily I had behaved. ME? He had tossed aside an idea he’d been excited about without looking back, because it didn’t feel right for me. Alas, we never do pursue our Sarah Bernhard idea. He would have killed it. I miss his warm exuberant Marco Polos. I miss my lifelong friend.
– AMANDA GREEN
I saw Terrence’s Love! Valour! Compassion! when I was just coming out to myself. The play showed me how life as a gay man could be full of joy, complexity, and connection. Many years later, I had the honor to direct two premieres of Terrence’s. And by then I was out. I truly owe so much to him.
– TRIP CULLMAN
I knew Terrence—not very well—as far back as the late 1970s. I only worked with him once and that was on the beautiful and critically underrated musical A Man of No Importance. What I most remember about him was his smile. He was always smiling, even when he was saying NO! I remember thinking that there were certain scenes in the show that could be trimmed or even cut. Most producers feel that way, God knows why. I would reason, I would beg, I would plead. He wouldn’t BUDGE but he always smiled. I remember thinking well, he must still like me despite my “notes” because he is still smiling. Maybe that was his way of seducing meddling producers; maybe he did actually like me. Whatever.
That show was a gem and it was a disgrace that it was so dismissed by the NY critics. Someday and I hope soon, it will be revived. People will see it and hear it and SMILE. And think of Terrence.
– ANDRE BISHOP
Terrence filled me with joy while working on Frankie and Johnny in the Clair De Lune. He told me he wrote Frankie for me after seeing ‘night, Mother. William Goldman came to see the play and recommended me to Rob Reiner for Misery. For that, I will always be indebted to Terrence. But he was very possessive of his muses and made fun of me for moving to LA to ‘concentrate’ on my movie career, putting his fingers to his temples like a mentalist. When I declined to do his next play, we didn’t speak for eighteen years. Terrence was a theatre man through and through. At Sardis, his unforgettable 80th birthday party, we kissed and made up. Now, I miss him terribly. When he laughed, one eye would crinkle up in a wink. I’ll always remember him that way.
– KATHY BATES
He used to say that Bill Shakespeare introduced us. Terrence loved the Bard and saw more theatre that anyone I know. He would go anywhere to see a play—uptown, downtown, out of town. He wanted to see everything. What an appetite!
He came to the first professional show I directed—a Shakespeare play in a small off-Broadway house. And year after year he came to see others. It was like having royalty in the house. Once he wrote a note expressing admiration for a production. I nearly died. It meant so much to me. And I know he did this for hundreds, maybe thousands of others. He was so generous and warm to young artists. Regardless of his brilliance, his legendary career, his countless awards, his attitude towards young artists was collegial. It was very disarming and moving.
I was shocked, terrified, thrilled when he asked me to direct a revival of Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune on Broadway. I actually pinched myself. He could have hired any director in the world! It speaks to his immense generosity as a human and his bravery as an artist that he asked a young-ish, female unknown to sit at the helm of his beautiful play on Broadway. What an honor and a pleasure it was to work with him on it.
He had a social calendar as full as any world leader’s: tea in the morning with Angela Lansbury (or some such luminary), lunch with the Mayor, a commencement speech in the afternoon, dinner at a benefit and then an opening night party. And that was just an ordinary day. He left brilliant, funny, candid, heartfelt, long, stream of consciousness voicemails. He was able to bring a kind of intimacy to every conversation. He told such wonderful stories. He said he was lucky in love. You could see that from across the room—the radiant and enduring love between him and Tom. I can’t think of many happier marriages. What an astonishing life.
His incredible plays are about our urgent need for human connection. He was led by that need. His writing, his wit, his activism, his rock-solid belief in the transformational power of theatre, his advocacy for young and marginalized artists, his politics, his brave and at times brutal capacity to tell the truth were all bold attempts to reach others. As Johnny says “We have to connect. We just have to.” My goodness, Terrence certainly did.
– ARIN ARBUS
Terrence was a great writer, a great friend, and a great man. But, as a board member of the Dramatists Guild Foundation, he was also a great supporter of every dramatist. I miss him. Every dramatist who benefitted from his guidance, wisdom, and leadership are likely to feel his loss for a long time.
– ANDREW LIPPA
Terrence’s profound gifts as a writer were matched only by his profound generosity to everyone around him; his work may be legendary but so is his kindness. The first time I ever got to meet him was at the Dramatists Guild Awards, where he stayed late into the night and made sure to personally congratulate the winners. That such a revered writer would take the time to honor total newcomers has always stuck with me.
– MIKE LEW
Terrence McNally was not only a brilliant writer, but he was a true social pioneer. In plays like Lips Together, Teeth Apart, The Lisbon Traviata, Love! Valour! Compassion!, Corpus Christi and Andre’s Mother, he seamlessly wove gay experiences into the fabric of American life. He introduced America to the sons she had for so long sought to diminish or deny, and we are all richer for it.
– DOUG WRIGHT
I treasure the memory of every moment I spent in Terrence’s presence. Although there were far too few of them, in every instance he was open, kind, perceptive and compassionate. And his love of theatre and those of us who are a part of the theatrical community is a constant inspiration and an undying legacy.
– ALAN MENKEN
No one in the theatre deserved major success more than Terrence. Thank God he had it! He was gifted and warm and hardworking and really funny. We spent a lot of time together when we were young, and then our lives went different ways. We always stayed connected, though, and just a week or two before he passed away, he called me out of the blue. We chatted and laughed for a while and said goodbye. I was lucky to have him in my life.
– ALFRED UHRY
From “…Side Of The Door” and “…Bump In The Night” All that you’ve done has been brilliantly right!’
- Love, MAURY YESTON
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to know Terrence very well personally. But those of us who followed his work through the years certainly were fortunate enough to know him through his writing. He particularly inspired me because he was both a playwright and librettist who also wrote for opera, television, and film. On the other hand, his incredible productivity was a bit infuriating to those of us who were decidedly less productive, particularly given the time he also gave to the Guild for eighteen years as our Vice-President. He inspired me to give more: more to my work and more to our community.
– JAMES LAPINE
One of the very best relationships to a playwright I’ve ever had was with Terrence McNally. I directed a play of his once, called Golden Age, a turbulent play full of extraordinary scenes. I couldn’t get hold of it. We fought like cats and dogs. He fired me. I think he was right. And then, just a few months later, I was in a show at MTC, and there, after a matinee, waiting for me in the lobby, was Terrence. We embraced. And for the rest of his life, our dealing with each other were cordial and enriching and priceless to me. This is one of those theatre stories I really like experiencing.
– AUSTIN PENDLETON
I didn’t really get to know Terrence until we were both nominated in the same Tony Award category in 2014. In the runup to the actual ceremony, there were a lot of stressful pre-event activities but despite the fact we were nominally competitors, Terrence was so generous and funny, full of stories about his mixed bag of success and failure, and then so genuinely enthusiastic when I won. He was, in a pun I like to think he would have enjoyed, a master class in being a class act.
– ROBERT SCHENKKAN
Terrence and I once had a meeting in Las Vegas about a proposed musical for one of the casinos. The ideas we were hearing at the meeting had a jaw-dropping effect on us. We laughed all the way home on a private jet. After seeing Love! Valour! Compassion!, I walked the 40 blocks home because the play had made me think and feel, and I didn’t want it to be over yet. Terrence made us all laugh and think and feel, and we didn’t want it to be over yet.
– CRAIG CARNELIA
I remember Terrence running up to me in the lobby of Manhattan Theatre Club after I’d seen Love! Valour! Compassion! really wanting to know my opinion. Here was a giant in the theatre, yet humble and generous enough that the opinion of everyone—even a very early career writer like me—mattered to him. His passing shocked and greatly saddened me, and he will be missed beyond measure.
– KIA CORTHRON
ASEVEN HUNDRED AND FIFTY-NINE GUN SALUTE TO OR BELOVED TERRENCE:
Just one more of your adoring fans, TINA HOWE
Terrence was brilliance, kindness, joy, and love personified. I will miss him forever.
– AUDRA MCDONALD
I was the lucky one out of my classmates at Juilliard, who drew the short straw and got to sit in on rehearsals for the original production of Master Class. On the first day, Terrence had me meet him at his home in Chelsea. I was intimidated and overwhelmed. He was not intimidating or overwhelming. He was warm and gracious as we walked to rehearsal. He was tickled by my name, as Carousel was a favorite. Audra McDonald had just won her first Tony for playing Carrie Pipperidge at Lincoln Center. We walked in, Terrence spotted her and dragged me over, asking her to sing the song my uncles had always tortured me with, “You’re a Queer One, Julie Jordan.” And I didn’t hate it with all my being. I enjoyed it, I enjoyed the look of delight on Terrence’s face...delight in Audra, delight in music, delight in theatre, delight in helping along the next generation. He was a delightful man.
He gave me the job of running lines with Zoe Caldwell. But she already knew her lines, so our mornings quickly became coaching sessions on my then-fraught love life. Terrence would catch us and laugh as we scrambled to pretend we were working hard on his play. He was a joyous man.
Years later, I was on a panel at the 92nd St. Y with Terrence and Pete Gurney. I was clearly there with those two titans of theatre to be the young one, the girl. The audience was there to see them, to hear from them, not me. I’ll never forget how he turned his chair towards me as he included me in the questions. How they both gave my voice their full attention, and in doing so instructed all to do the same. I never forget when he asked me a question. How did it feel to one of the few women to be produced that year? He noticed. He knew. He made it part of the conversation. He was a gracious man.
When Marsha Norman, Theresa Rebeck, and I started the Lilly Awards, Terrence and Tom Kirdahy came and applauded and laughed and hugged us after. Terrence was an activist. He loved being at a show and he loved having a laugh, which is pretty much what the Lilly Awards are. Year after year he came back. Once, he came to present a Lilly to Chita Rivera, but every other time he came simply to cheer us on, to cheer the honorees and the next generation of theatre women. He never made a fuss, never asked for prime seating. The last time he came, there was a crush of people. I saw him, but I don’t think he saw me. I watched him walk past the orchestra doors and up the stairs to the cheap seats, He was surrounded by my young students, though he didn’t know that’s who they were. He had that twinkle Irish-eyed smile on his face. That’s how I’ll remember him. He was a very, very, good man.
– JULIA JORDAN
Every time I walk by Terrence’s place on East 9th Street I think about the last time I saw him, a year ago, on the roof garden of that building on the brilliantly sunny day. We met to have a chat before he went to Florida. The chat turned into a three-hour marathon in which we went over all the years we had known each other since meeting at New Dramatists in 1966. My god, more than half a century. Our paths had become entwined, thanks to the actors we shared. Stockard. Baranski. Swoosie. We’d been the first two Off-Broadway playwrights elected to the board of the Broadway-centric Dramatists Guild in the early 70s. Michael Kahn asked us in the early 90s to start a playwriting program at Juilliard which we taught jointly for a year before Marsha Norman and Chris Durang took it over and made it legendary. At the American Academy of Arts and Letters, we worked to get recognition for playwrights. Those three hours could’ve gone on to four but for the sun starting to set and the air turning cool. We still had a lot of fat to chew and would continue doing so as soon as he got back to New York. I’ll keep waiting.
– JOHN GUARE
I know there are people who knew Terrence well, broke bread with him, celebrated with him, etc. I first encountered him when my play In the Continuum was scheduled to go up on the off nights of his show, Dedication or The Stuff of Dreams. I remember it starred Nathan Lane and Marian Seldes. That play was a hit that season. I’m not sure if our success was due to or despite the guillotine that was a part of Mr. McNally’s set that we repurposed for our play, but it worked. He was professionally kind and gracious when we finally formally met. I’m so glad I had the opportunity.
– NIKKOLE SALTER
I was still writing press releases in the PR Dept of the SF Opera when Terrence McNally changed the course of my life, as he did for countless young and emerging artists. He said yes to writing his first major opera with me. We were introduced by the general director of the SF Opera. He was one of my idols. Of course, he’d never even heard of me, but he believed fiercely in serendipity and talent. He had a remarkable eye for all kinds of talent. He suggested Dead Man Walking for our project and my creative world shifted irrevocably. In fact, the American opera world shifted, though at the time we weren’t aware. We worked closely together for two years at his houses in Key West, New York City, and Bridgehampton, and with me here in San Francisco. He was an incredibly generous collaborator willing to make whatever changes or adjustments were necessary so that the music could ultimately lead. He’d of course stand his ground (vehemently!) to protect the integrity of the storytelling, but he would always listen and respond. He loved opera—LOVED it—and adored great singers. After having written about opera in his plays for decades, he was thrilled at the chance to write a big American drama. We became devoted friends and colleagues. Dead Man Walking opened twenty years ago, on October 7, 2000. It has since had 70 international productions, making it the most performed new American opera of this young century. He wanted so much to be at the (now postponed) Metropolitan Opera premiere: a new production by director Ivo van Hove. His ideas were central to the trajectory of my career early on. Moby-Dick was his idea, too, though he ultimately did not write the libretto.
It seems that when Dead Man Walking opened, the attitude about new American opera changed. In the year of its premiere, [it] was one of a couple new operas. Now there are dozens every year. I attribute that, in great part, to Terrence: his vision, leadership, ideas. He did the same for the theatre world and the musical theatre world. I dedicated the score of Dead Man Walking to him. Together, he and I created two large-scale operas, Dead Man Walking (2000) and Great Scott (2015). A short script he wrote in 1999 was the source for Three Decembers in 2008. He wrote the libretto for our operatic scena At the Statue of Venus (2005), and he granted me permission to set the Final Monologue from Master Class for Joyce DiDonato in 2007.
He was a great man—refused to be trendy or give into fads. He was a demanding but generous collaborator bursting with ideas, life, and enthusiasm. A true friend. A true fan and lover of the arts. He believed in authenticity, truth, honesty and, more than anything, in the power of theatre to connect and transform us. His influence is immeasurable, and I will miss him every single day of my life.
– JAKE HEGGIE
I honestly believe that no one loved the theatre and actors more than Terrence. When his eyes watched a performance, he had a sense of childlike wonder and delight. Certain performers he simply worshipped.
– CHRISTINE BARANSKI
What would Terrence say if I said it was his eyes? That merry twinkle (such a cliche) and the helpless smile. Laughter was in his eyes, and the wonders of the world he loved, devoured and displayed. Terrence was the most inspiring and loving collaborator EVER. All who worked with him knew he was warm and funny but deadly serious about his work and his mission. He disarmed audiences with laughter and shot his arrow with precision. He was profoundly a citizen. He cared about his country and grieved over social injustice and tyranny. He had a matchless ear for contemporary American speech. The characters he created were three-dimensional
human beings. He stood in countless others’ shoes and they all fit. He loved every living moment as he loved his husband, as he loved his friends. He was beloved. Honored in life, he will be forever remembered as one of the great theatre artists of our time.
– FRANK GALATI
Terrence had the humility and open wonder about working together rarely seen in someone with his success. It inspired me to come from the same place. And it always made me better.
– EDIE FALCO
His art inspired me to do the best of my work in the five shows we did together. I’ll cherish his humanity and gentleness for as long as I live. Thank you, my dear Terrence.
– GRACIELA DANIELE
Terrence’s work as a writer, advocate, and activist are well-documented and deserves nothing less than the highest praise. My late wife, Marin Mazzie, and I were so fortunate and ever grateful to have worked with him many times. But his friendship to us is what I cherish the most. His cunning and cutting sense of humor, his love of desserts, his dedication to checking in on us, his cherubic and sly grin, his insatiable passion for theatre and so much more. His compassion and love for his friends was boundless and will live with me forever.
– JASON DANIELEY
Terrence McNally was a dazzling comedic genius who was also capable of writing the most devastating drama. The meeting of those forms is both muscular and delicate; life is both funny and sad. Terrence held those truths aloft, in balance, and we still and always will witness that brilliant accomplishment with awe.
– THERESA REBECK
My journey with Terrence was unique: it spanned from Love! Valour! Compassion! to The Inheritance, 25 years later. The first play he wrote, of course. The second play, written by his friend Matthew Lopez, was in many ways inspired by Terrence’s work, and was infused with his spirit. Also, Terrence was married to the play’s producer, Tom Kirdahy. So, Terrence was there a lot, and to watch this man, this great artist, who it must be said was not in great health at the time, so fully champion and support this play, someone else’s work, was a lesson in how we should all treat each other in the theatre, and in life.
– JOHN BENJANMIN HICKEY
Terrence loved life. He was ever curious, always kind and so very talented. Quite simply, he changed my life. Thank you for coming by my London apartment that day in August 1975. It’s up there with Christmas and the Fourth of July. I love you, Terrence. Always have and always will.
– DOMINIC CUSKERN
Having Terrence McNally and his words and friendship allowed me to understand and discover who and what I am as a person and an artist. Terrence as a friend is deep and sincere, and the artist gave me characters I never thought I could portray, that were exciting and moving. The world is better because of this great writer and person. I’m blessed he was such a huge part of my life.
– CHITA RIVERA
I remember conversations with Terrence when he spoke with complete candor about joy and sorrow, love and loss, success and failure. He would calmly tell me about theatre experiences that must have caused him great pain, like the difference between being “well fired and badly fired.” Afterwards, I would worry that I had failed him, that I was too cagey about my own experiences and misgivings.
As for working with Terrence... He was passionate and practical, grand and grounded, idealistic and pragmatic—all at the same time! He could spar as well as anyone I had worked with. But it was all good. Because there was love and respect behind every moment of collaboration. Even the thorny ones. And whenever Terrence witnessed young talent, like Christy and Derek in Anastasia, rise to the challenge of his heightened dialogue or a new Flaherty and Ahrens song, his enthusiasm was childlike and boundless.
Most of all, I miss his valorous sense of humor. Even when he seemed to be struggling for breath, there were humorous recollections; withering yet uproarious observations; and there was laughter.
– DARKO TRESNJAK
There are really no words to express how much I owe Terrence McNally for bringing me back to Broadway in 2007 after my husband Peter’s death in 2003. It filled my life with a purpose and enabled me to rediscover the joy of live theatre. I shall remain forever grateful to him for that.
– ANGELA LANSBURY
Terrence and I were staying at the same San Diego hotel for the out-of-town run of The Full Monty and the morning of first rehearsal we met for breakfast. I asked him “How’d you sleep?” This multi award-winning veteran of dozens of great plays and musicals over several decades said “Oh, I can never sleep before first rehearsal. Too excited.”
This excitement around his work and his sincere, generous enthusiasm for theatre in general never flagged, not for a minute. Not then and not in his last months. It’s a battery I can still tap into when mine is drained. Thanks for the jumpstart Terrence.
– DAVID YAZBEK
Here’s a little something about the master, TM: I had no idea what Lips Together, Teeth Apart was about when I directed it as a Junior in High School in Plano, TX, but it certainly spoke to me. So did Sweet Eros, Master Class, and of course Love! Valour!… but I didn’t know why. These plays, when revisited as an adult, meant all new things. I return to Terrence’s work over and over again because each time I learn something new about him, the work and myself.
When we presented Some Men as a part of the first PRIDE PLAYS queer theater festival in 2019, we asked Terrence if he’d like to add something new to his 2007 play chronicling the experience of the gay man from the early 20th century. He wrote a short scene about Pete Buttigieg deciding to run for president and insisted I play Mayor Pete. I didn’t get to originate a role in a full-length Terrence play, but I count my lucky stars I got to play an LGBTQ trailblazer as written by another LGBTQ trailblazer. And Terrence was there.
– MICHAEL UHRIE
Terrence loved life. To be with Terrence was to have one’s eyes opened to all of the little and big joys, surprises, quirks, disappointments and triumphs. He was always wonderfully present sharing his insights and amusements. He was always inclusive. The only comfort in his passing is that we still have his words. We can find his joy of life in his plays where he always let us in on the joke and held our sorrows.
– ANDREA LEPCIO
Terrence revered opera but lived a life without grandeur or anything close to it. He was human, unmistakably human, and his characters spoke—simply, crucially—like humans. He saw people, very clearly, and it showed in the unforgettable characters he created for stage. Those characters spoke plainly and from the heart, without opera’s flourish.
And he could see us—his collaborators—just as clearly, and his great gift was sensing our potential before we did. I saw the power of his belief in many, many of us. Pushing and challenging each to see that excellence was within his or her reach.
“The only thanks I ask is that you sing properly and honestly. If you do this then I will be repaid.”
These were his soaring high notes, and they’ll resound in my memories forever.
– JOE MANTELLO
It is my great honor to be invited to write about my experience working with the wonderful Terrence McNally. I first met Terrence when I came to work in New York City in 2005. He was enormously kind to me. He reached out and we spent time together, with him sharing his long experience of working on Broadway. Many years later, that very kindness was there all through the two projects that we worked on together. Two very different projects that I had the great pleasure to work on with Terrence.
The Visit is a musical written by the trio of McNally, Kander and Ebb. When it came to me as a project, the piece already had history. It had received productions in Chicago and Washington. The writing team didn’t feel their work was finished and I was invited to direct it at Williamstown Theatre Festival with the hope that it might go to Broadway. The process started with meetings with Terrence and John to discuss what they felt worked or didn’t work with the piece. Those meetings were full of laughter and care but also with a deep concern for the integrity of the story. I had the opportunity to do a brief workshop of the piece with the musical theatre students at Pace University. I had few hours to work it into a public reading, which John and Terrence attended. They had very generously stayed out of the way of the process, to allow me a private exploration of the piece. I had trimmed the material down, cut the intermission, and attempted to give a sense of how a production might breathe. John and Terrence very generously approved. That very generosity that these wonderful collaborators extended toward me remained there throughout the entire project. At Williamstown and then later when we went into rehearsal for Broadway, they attended almost every rehearsal, although I do remember that they both left me to it at the crucial stage. By the crucial stage I mean in the penultimate week of rehearsal, when actor and director are sweating over performance issues and when they as writers may simply be an inhibiting factor in the growth of the project. Very sensitive, very trusting and deeply generous.
Now let me take you to Fire and Air. To work with a great writer on a new play is a privilege. I was thrilled when Terrence asked me to take a look at this play, which centered on the relationship between Diaghilev and Nijinsky. We were both hopeful of being able to do the play at Classic Stage Company where I am artistic director, a theatre space that Terrence liked so very much. We spent much time working on the play together. Many meetings, many wonderful discussions, much laughter and a deeply serious intent. We worked on the text together, making changes, cutting characters, figuring out the essence of the wonderful material. We had a private reading of a draft, in Terrence’s apartment with a few friends. Not a rehearsed reading, simply the gift of a reading by some colleagues who had two things in common. They were all sublimely talented and they all loved Terrence McNally. What I remember most clearly about that reading is the experience of watching Terrence “listen” to his play. He listened with a very deep concentration. He said little. He was grateful to his beloved actors. Nobody loved actors more than Terrence. Everybody went their separate ways and about a week later I went to visit with Terrence and to see how he had transformed his text, having devoured all the information he received at the reading. We had no more readings, no workshop, no lab. We simply went into rehearsal, this time with a new group of actors who would, along with me, have the honor of presenting this world premiere. Just like The Visit, Terrence was always there for me. He went away for a few days in the muddy period, he was always ready for change, he wanted to know how the actors felt and wanted to accommodate them in any way he could. Equally he knew when to gently, strongly and very sweetly insist that they say what was written! After all, they were his words. He loved words. Thank god for that.
As a director, I am grateful to Terrence for so many things. For trusting me with two precious stories, for knowing the moments when I might feel unsure, and for being there to support me. Not that he wouldn’t tell me if he thought I was being a little too “clever” and getting in the way of the story! Thank god for that too. I am also grateful to him for staying out of the way for the entire tech period. The best thing a writer can possibly do. Why sit there watching your work falling apart before the joy of it being put back together again into final readiness?
I used to think that Fire and Air was a requiem for an artist. Little did I ever think that I was directing Terrence’s final New York world premiere. As I write this, none of us have been able to go to a theatre for some time. I know for sure that Terrence McNally wouldn’t have been at all happy about that. Terrence McNally loved the theatre. He loved actors. He loved the business of storytelling and he loved collaboration. Terrence was a treasure. A true artist. I am humbled and honored to have known him.
– JOHN DOYLE
Terrence’s profound passion for life and the human condition, paired with his breathtaking vulnerability and courage to go where so few humans dare, has served as one of the all-time greatest lessons in my life. He insisted that we artists MATTER and that our work MATTERS, and he instilled that in us with his signature generosity and humor. This world is remarkably BETTER—and it is CHANGED for the BETTER—for his having graced it. May we all embrace his example and follow audaciously and lovingly in his glorious footsteps, leaving no-one untouched by our mattering.
– JOYCE DIDONATO
Terrence’s voice has been in my ear since I was a young actor in New York in the sixties. I became a friend when I first played for him in Andre’s Mother. From that time on, I’ve considered myself a McNally actor. The fearlessly performative nature of his characters, their fierceness and vulnerability, not to mention their drop-dead humor, are a feast for actors. You get to have the jokes, but you also have to feel the pain. With Terrence there’s no shade. I miss him so much, but I still hear his voice.
– RICHARD THOMAS
Words for Terrence…or coals to Newcastle, more obviously. When such another? When such a witty, daring, more “American” writer for our stages? The perception. The vitriol. The irrepressible naughtiness.
We met over the deliciously stillborn Up In Saratoga when I was still artistic director at the Globe in the late ‘80’s, I think…. Then The Full Monty, and Catch Me If You Can, and It’s Only A Play and finally, ultimately, The Great Scott, his last magical opera with Jake Heggie.
He wasn’t necessarily blithe in rehearsal, experience teaches me that playwrights rarely are… Richard Nelson, Tom Stoppard, Terrence, (most affectionately called “Cranky Pants!”)… It’s “business” after all, no matter how gloriously simple they seem to make it. He was a true perfectionist, and the ravishing gift to make a huge blank canvas of strangers expel their breath in the single instant of inspired laughter is a skill too consistently undervalued in our sorry times. He was pepper, he was popsicles, his was the fastest, most searing arrow to the heart of AIDS and Gay rights.
He was my sibling, my “sorella,” and when, on the cusp of a new century, our respective lovers died only weeks apart, we ended up together on a retreat at Turks and Caicos as the only other person we could stand to be with. You just don’t get closer than that. The very limb of my conscience is missing.
– JACK O'BRIEN
Terrence McNally made such a difference in my life and career that I hardly know where to start. It began with The Lisbon Traviata, a one-act play originally intended as part of a double bill with another by Edward Albee. When that didn’t work out as planned, it occurred to me that one of the characters could star in his own play. I told Terrence, and off we went. The result was a work that one critic called “extremely funny but also heart-rending.” This was Terrence’s great gift: the joke that suddenly stabs you in the heart.
We then shared a very productive relationship with Lynne Meadow. It was an exhilarating time, resulting in Lips Together, Teeth Apart, It’s Only a Play, A Perfect Ganesh, and his piece Andre’s Mother in Urban Blight which became a full-length Emmy Award-winning play.
Coming from radically different backgrounds, we still had the same sensibility and the same sense of humor. Terrence could always make me laugh.
I miss him terribly. Not a day goes by that something special happens and I think “Oh, I have to tell Terrence!”
– JOHN TILLINGER
Imiss my friend. His intellect, his wit, his compassion, his exuberance, his obsessiveness, his humanity, his ability to get to the heart of the matter with just the right words.
I hate this fucking virus for taking him from the world. But I know that his brilliant work will last forever and so he will live on for generations to come.
A remarkable legacy.
I miss my friend.
My dear sweet friend.
– NATHAN LANE