Terrence McNally, Reverend George Walker, and Tom Kirdahy
WASHINGTON – Terrence McNally was writing about gay divorce long before gay marriage was ever legal.
His 1980s play, "The Lisbon Traviata," takes audiences from the hilarious highs of friends bonded over opera and then plunges them to the agony of a shattered relationship waiting at home.
The play was written at the height of the AIDS crisis, and the prospect of being alone during that nightmare was far worse for some than clinging to a bad match and pretending it was good. He wasn't writing role models, McNally said recently. He was writing about real people, warts and all.
In the city where this play has been revived 25 years later as part of a monthlong festival, McNally is drafting a new part of his own story.
On Tuesday, the 71-year-old playwright and his partner, Tom Kirdahy, 46, exchanged vows on the banks of the Potomac River with the new same-sex marriage law in the nation's capital. Never mind their 25-year age difference, he said. They don't feel it, except for their tastes in music.
During a small ceremony under a tree blooming with white flowers, Kirdahy read from a scene in McNally's play "Corpus Christi," in which a gay Christ-like figure named Joshua marries two apostles. HERE
¨After graduation, McNally moved to Mexico to focus on his writing, completing a one-act play which he submitted to the Actors Studio in New York for production. While the play was turned down by the acting school, the Studio was impressed with the script, and McNally was invited to serve as the Studio's stage manager so that he could gain practical knowledge of theater. In his early years in New York, he was a protégé and lover of the noted playwright Edward Albee.
In 1968, McNally asked that his name be removed from the credits for what would have been his first major project, the musical Here's Where I Belong. His decision proved to be a wise one, as the show closed after one performance. Although several early comedies such as Next in 1969 and The Ritz in 1975 won McNally critical praise, it was not until later in his career that he would become truly successful with works such as his off-Broadway play Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune and its screen adaptation with stars Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer.
His first credited Broadway musical was The Rink in 1984, a project he entered after the score by composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb had been written. In 1990, McNally won an Emmy Award for Best Writing in a Miniseries or Special for Andre's Mother, a drama about a woman trying to cope with her son's death from AIDS. A year later, he returned to the stage with another AIDS-related play, Lips Together, Teeth Apart, a study of the irrational fears many people harbor towards homosexuals and people who have the disease. 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 swimming pool once used by Sally's brother.
With Kiss of the Spider Woman in 1992, McNally returned to the musical stage, collaborating with Kander and Ebb 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. He collaborated with Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens on Ragtime in 1997, a musical adaptation of the E.L. Doctorow novel, 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.Ragtime is also on Broadway until January 3, 2010.
McNally's other plays include 1994's Love! Valour! Compassion! which examines the relationships of eight gay men; and Master Class (1995), a character study of legendary opera soprano Maria Callas which won the Tony for Best Play.
In 1997, McNally stirred up a storm of controversy with Corpus Christi, a modern day retelling of the story of Jesus' birth, ministry, and death in which both he and his disciples are portrayed as homosexual. In fact, the play was initially cancelled because of death threats from extremist religious groups 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 sentencing McNally to death. On January 19, 2008, Robert Forsyth, Anglican bishop of South Sydney condemned "Corpus Christi" (which opened for February's Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, a play depicting Judas seducing Jesus): "It is deliberately, not innocently, offensive and they're obviously having a laugh about it." The play also showed Jesus administrating a marriage between two male apostles. Director Leigh Rowney accepted that it would offend some Christians and said: "I wanted this play in the hands of a Christian person like myself to give it dignity but still open it up to answering questions about Christianity as a faith system."
In a January 2003 interview, McNally addressed critics who said he had "added" two gay characters to his Brodway adaptation of the film "The Full Monty": "If Neil Simon had written the script, they wouldn’t have said that. I get it for being gay, for proselytising. It’s so annoying, all that bullshit."
McNally's play Deuce ran on Broadway in a limited engagement in 2007for 121 performances. Directed by Michael Blakemore, it starred Angela Lansbury and Marian Seldes.
The Kennedy Center, Washington, DC is presenting three of McNally's plays that focus on his works involving opera, titled Nights at the Opera in March 2010. They are a new play, Golden Age, Master Class starring Tyne Daly, and The Lisbon Traviata starring Malcolm Gets and John Glover.¨ HERE
A HAPPY PERSONAL MEMORY:
When I was a young man in my early 20´s I went to the Caribbean on a month-long vacation from San Francisco. The first days/daze of the vacation were spent in Puerto Rico. I joined up with my dear friend Ron Williams who was Director of the Community Development Foundation in Santo Domingo, The Dominican Republic. Ron had flown over to show me around and take me home with him to continue the touring (we went to Papa Docs Haiti too). On that second night Ron met Terrence McNally as we danced the night away at the ¨Hilltop¨ all-nighter bar in Old San Juan. Terrence was really nice and especially handsome. I was glad, and a little envious, that he and Ron became immediate friends. The next day the three of us shared breakfast together at a open-air restaurant in the Condado. Years later I would own a Condominium a block from that exact spot which had become a little public plazalito and I would often sit on a bench, right there, and think of the earlier friendly moments we all shared eating fried eggs and toasted pan criollo. Ron had died at 33 when I was 30.
Although I never met up with Terrence again, I kept him tucked away in a special section of my mind reserved for Ron and the many other fine friends that I met as my life progressed through the decades. I later would hear Terrence give Opera narrations on the public radio (as I painted in my studio abroad during the 90´s) and be warmed knowing that he too was surviving being Gay. I was sometimes aware of Terrence McNally´s successes and challenges via the media through the years and felt a friendly connection of good will. NOW, today, I am 66 1/2 years old and I clicked on a link on my computer here in Central America and I see that TERRENCE MCNALLY, age 71, married his longtime partner yesterday and is happy and also well and honored at the Kennedy Center as they perform his work(s). My heart is full. Feeling joyful with others, no matter how remotely, is a wonder and another gift of God...and so is Terrence McNally.
FELICIDADES and MOZEL TOV and CONGRATULATIONS to Terrence McNally and Tom Kirdahy. I wish them both every available happiness and peace as their lives continue together after formal wedlock.·
Thanks be to God, for Love and Marriage Equality.
Leonardo Ricardo (aka Len)
·Thanks to Ron Williams, RIP
·Thanks to Terrence McNally
·Thanks to Washington, The District of Columbia
·Thanks to The Associated Press
·Thanks to Wikipedia
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