The Kennedy Center

Terrence McNally


Playwright Terrence McNally was born in 1939 and grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas, listening to radio broadcasts of The Green Hornet and the Metropolitan Opera. McNally's love of the opera and especially of the famous diva Maria Callas would surface in his work, most notably in his Tony award-winning Master Class (1996). His love of music also inspired him to collaborate on several musicals, including The Rink (1984), Kiss of the Spider Woman (1993), and Ragtime (1996).

Graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia in 1960 with a degree in English, McNally enjoyed a fellowship in Mexico where he wrote a play that earned the attention of the Actors Studio and got him a job as a stage manager, allowing him to acquire some practical theatre experience. In 1961, he enjoyed bonding with John Steinbeck and his family, on tour with them through Europe as the Steinbeck children's tutor.  After McNally's first Broadway play And Things That Go Bump in the Night flopped, gaining notoriety for being 1964's most scandalous, he went forward working odd jobs until his subsequent and successful play Next elevated him to full-time playwright status. 

From the macabre to the farcical, the range of McNally's satire and drama borrows from his personal life and his personal understanding of the world. McNally's plays about homophobia, love, fear, and AIDS, among other things, illuminate the dominant theme of how people connect and fail to connect. McNally has no fear of offending as he explores new territories with his pen. His controversial 1999 play Corpus Christi dramatized a homosexual version of Jesus Christ, drawing mobs of angry protesters to his home theater at the Manhattan Theatre Club, and inciting a fatwa or death sentence from a Muslim group in England.

Despite the controversy surrounding some of his plays, Terrence McNally is one of the most beloved and prolific modern-day playwrights. Besides the afore-mentioned, some of his other notable credits include: The Ritz (1975), Frankie and Johnny at the Claire de Lune (1987), The Lisbon Traviata (1989), Andre's Mother (1990), Lips Together, Teeth Apart (1991), and Love! Valour! Compassion! (1994). 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.

Terrence McNally