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McNally, Terrence (b. 1939)  
page: 1  2  

McNally pays particular attention to the tension that exists between mothers and the sons whose lives they've authored but whose homosexuality they deplore. Katherine admits feeling betrayed by her favorite son Walter's homosexuality in Ganesh, much as Andre's mother remains painfully silent at his memorial service, as unable to accept the finality of his death as she was to accept his orientation and relationship with Cal while he was alive.

One of McNally's favorite plot devices is to put straights in a gay environment and see how they feel as members of a minority. After naively stumbling into a gay bathhouse in Ritz, Gaetano is taken aback to receive from exuberantly promiscuous Chris and deluded diva Googie the familial support denied him by the straight, male in-laws who farcically seek to kill him. The four heterosexuals in Lips Together, unsettled to find themselves in a gay enclave on Fire Island, are forced to reevaluate both their token liberalism and their understanding of passion and family. Conversely, the gay family that surrounds Gregory is able to accommodate even "John the Foul."

McNally's drive to dramatize the ways by which people are able eventually to accept difference explains the importance of India in his personal mythology, Hinduism representing the acceptance of all that is human, the willingness to enjoy the bittersweet smell of a baby's soiled diapers and to embrace a leper.

Thus, for McNally, the most important thing that the arts--particularly theater and opera--can do is to break down the walls that divide people and widen the shared human breathing space. "The world can and will go on without us," Maria Callas acknowledges at the conclusion of her master class, "but I have to think that we have made this world a better place. That we have left it richer, wiser than had we not chosen the way of art."

McNally's oeuvre is a metacommentary upon the power of theater to confront prejudice, break down resistance, and effect reconciliation. Frankie and Johnny's relationship is sealed by two pieces of music that they hear on the radio. In Lisbon Traviata, Stephen and Mendy live for and through the operas of Maria Callas (much as Buzz lives for and through musical comedy in Love), and Stephen's parting with Mike is played variously as Don Jose's stabbing of Carmen or as Violetta's sacrifice for Alfredo. The puppet play that Katherine witnesses in India holds up her relationship with her gay son for her examination.

And, although supposedly addressing her master class of students at Julliard, the actress playing Callas speaks directly to McNally's audience. Her comments on how an artist lives and performs are also McNally's encouragement to the audience to allow art to enlarge their lives. Art crystallizes the "defining moment" that characters in all of his plays must experience if they are to find their way to acceptance and redemption. McNally's is, finally, a tragicomic theater of "reconciliation, renewal and re-birth" in which, as he puts it in Ganesh, opposites are able to exist peacefully side by side and "a tiny leap [can be made] across the void between two people."

[A comprehensive survey and assessment of McNally's career may be found in Raymond Frontain's 2013 Point of View essay, "Terrence McNally: Theater as Connection," which may be accessed here.]

Raymond-Jean Frontain

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Frontain, Raymond-Jean. "'I don't believe this whole night': Transgressive Festivity in Terrence McNally's The Ritz." Philological Review 29.2 (Fall 2003): 79-126.

_____. "'All men are divine': Religious Mystery and Homosexual Identity in Terrence McNally's Corpus Christi." Reclaiming the Sacred: The Bible in Gay and Lesbian Culture. Raymond-Jean Frontain, ed. 2nd ed. New York: Haworth Press, 2003. 231-57.

_____. "Terrence McNally: Theater as Connection." (April 1, 2013):

Zinman, Toby Silverman, ed. Terrence McNally: A Casebook. New York: Garland, 1997.


    Citation Information
    Author: Frontain, Raymond-Jean  
    Entry Title: McNally, Terrence  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated March 31, 2013  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, New England Publishing Associates  


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