1939, Terrence McNally would have his first play produced in
1964 at the age of 25. Although several early comedies such as
Next (1969) and The Ritz (1975) won McNally quite
a bit of praise, it was not until later in his career that he
would become truly successful with works such as Frankie and
Johnny at the Claire de Lune (1987) for which he wrote the
screen adaptation which starred Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer.
In 1990, McNally won an Emmy Award for Best Writing in a Miniseries
or Special for Andre's Mother. A year later, he returned
to the stage with Lips Together, Teeth Apart (1991), a
study of the irrational fears that many people harbor towards
homosexuals and victims of AIDS. In the play, two married couples
spend the Fourth of July weekend at a summer house on Fire Island.
The house has been willed to Sally Truman by her brother who
has just died of AIDS, and it soon becomes evident that both
couples are afraid to get in the pool, afraid that they will
somehow contract AIDS by swimming in the same pool that Sally's
brother used to swim in.
With Kiss of the Spider Woman
(1992), McNally turned his attentions to the musical stage, collaborating
with John Kander (composer) and Fred Ebb (lyricist) on a script
which explores the complex relationship between two men caged
together in a Latin American prison. Kiss of the Spider Woman
won the 1993 Tony Award for "Best Book of a Musical."
McNally also collaborated with Kander and Ebb on The Rink.
He collaborated with Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens on Ragtime (1997), a musical adaptation
of the novel by E.L. Doctorow, which tells the story of Coalhouse
Walker Jr., a fiery black piano man who demands retribution when
his Model T is destroyed by a mob of white troublemakers. The
play also features such historical figures as Harry Houdini,
Booker T. Washington, J.P. Morgan and Henry Ford.
McNally's other plays include Love! Valour! Compassion!
(1994) which examines the relationships of eight gay men and
Master Class (1995), a character study of legendary opera
soprano Maria Callas which won the 1996 Tony Award for "Best
Play." McNally also dealt with Callas in The Lisbon Traviata
In 1997, McNally stirred up a storm of controversy with Corpus
Christi (1997), a modern day retelling of the story of Jesus'
birth, ministry, and death in which both he and his disciples
are homosexuals. In fact, the play was initially cancelled because
of death threats against the board members of the Manhattan Theatre
Club which was to produce the play. However, several other playwrights
such as Tony Kushner threatened to withdraw their plays if "Corpus
Christi" was not produced, and the board finally relented.
When the play opened, the Theatre was besieged by almost 2000
protesters, furious at what they considered blasphemy. When Corpus
Christi opened in London, a British Muslim group called the
Defenders of the Messenger Jesus even went so far as to issue
a Fatwa or death sentence on McNally.
In addition to four Tony Awards, McNally has received two Guggenheim Fellowships, a Rockefeller Grant, the Lucille Lortel Award, the Hull-Warriner Award, and a citation from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He has been a member of the Dramatists Guild Council since 1970 and has served as vice-president since 1981. He is considered one of the leading American dramatists still writing today.
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