Honoring Playwright Terrence McNally

On March 24, American playwright Terrence McNally passed away due to COVID-19 at the age of 81. McNally had previously beat lung cancer around 1990. After beating cancer, McNally struggled with chronic inflammatory lung disease.

He didn’t let criticism get to him, and this proved to pay off. The playwright received four Tony Awards. The awards were given to two musicals “Kiss of the Spider Woman” (1993) and “Ragtime” (1998) and two plays, “Love! Valour! Compassion!” (1995) and “Master Class” (1996). 

McNally was well-known for his work that highlighted gay life on stage. He was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 1996 and was known for being the playwright that would write about difficult topics most playwrights avoided. 

This resilient playwright not only beat cancer and battled against lung disease for years,  he proved to be tough in other ways. 

 “I still think that I win, hands down, the contest for worst five play reviews — or any-play reviews,” McNally told Vogue.

This revolutionary man not only provided the United States, but the world, with entertaining and heart-felt plays that have covered difficult and tragic topics, reminding us all how both beautiful and hard life can be. 

Kiss of the Spider Woman
McNally wrote the book that created this musical. Based off the novel El Beso de la Mujer Araña by Manual Puig, this musical covers difficult subjects, including prison life, humiliation, isolation, torture and romance. While serving an eight year sentence in Argentina, Luis Alberto Molina falls in love with his prison mate, Valentin Arregui Paz, only to be shot and killed for confessing his love. Full of love, passion and sadness, this play received mixed reviews but was performed 904 times on Broadway.

Representing three different groups in the United States in the early 20th century, this play tells the story of what life was like for African Americans, upper-class suburbanites and Eastern European immigrants. The play even references prominent figures, such as Henry Ford, Harry Houdini and J.P. Morgan. This play was shown worldwide, premiering internationally in Toronto in 1996. Based off of the novel Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow, this play has been performed as recently as 2018 in Rhode Island. 

Love! Valour! Compassion!
This play came to Broadway in 1995, originally premiering off-Broadway in 1994. Eight gay friends spend time together at a vacation home north of New York City. The play includes a romance between two men, Gregory and Boby. Not only did this play receive a Tony Award, but it also received a Drama Desk Award for “Most Outstanding Play.” Just like the title might infer, the play includes passionate themes such as valour, bravery and romance. 

Master Class
Highlighting a dramatic opera singer, the plot shows the challenges Maria Callas faces by hosting a master class. Through this play, McNally shows how chasing dreams and performing art comes with sacrifices, heartache and hatred. Because Callas hosts this class near the end of her life, she begins reminiscing about her career. Premiering on Broadway at the John Golden Theatre in 1995, this play contains predominantly monologue. 

For more information on McNally and his work, click here. 


Story by: Elizabeth Armstrong
Photos by: The Wall Street Journal