American Masters

Terrence McNally: Every Act of Life

Transcript

♪♪ ♪♪ Terrence: I love the theater.

When the curtain goes up, what a great adventure.

[ Cheers and applause ] Tomlin: Well, thank you a lot. And good evening.

The half-century of the Tonys has seen on the Broadway stage the work of a remarkably brilliant cast of American playwrights along with Arthur Miller, to name just a few -- Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams, William Inge, Neil Simon, Edward Albee, August Wilson, Wendy Wasserstein, Tony Kushner, and Terrence McNally.

And the Tony Award for Best Play goes to... Oh!

I can read it from here.

...Terrence McNally's 'Master Class.'

Baranski: He's gone through so many ups and downs.

He's had wild success, but he's also had huge disappointments, shattering disappointments, but he's still writing.

I think that's a test of character.

McNally: Thank you.

McDonald: Terrence is able to get to the core of the human condition in so many different ways.

Caldwell: This isn't just an opera. This is your life.

McDonald: [ Singing operatically ] He makes you laugh and cry and turn on a dime in all different areas, and I defy you to name another playwright who can do that.

Lane: Nobody loves the theater as much as Terrence.

I can contain the world of the Broadway musical, get my hands around it, so to speak, be the master of one little universe.

Besides, when I'm alone, it gives me great pleasure to sing and dance around the apartment.

I especially like 'Big Spender' from 'Sweet Charity,' and I'm going back where I can be made from 'Bells Are Ringing.'

I could never do this with anyone watching, of course, even a boyfriend if I had one, which I don't!

[ Laughter ] Terrence: Theater is just so interesting.

It's not easy, but it's -- How can you get bored, you know, working with all these amazing people I work with and trying to make something beautiful, meaningful and put it onstage?

A big theme in my life is mattering.

Do I matter?

I've always had feelings of not really approving or even liking my own work.

I think it goes back to the push-pull, push-pull of my childhood.

Sometimes I miss the smell of the Gulf of Mexico, the heavy, heavy humid night air.

Peter: Terrence is my older brother.

We lived in the same bedroom for many years.

Corpus Christi in the '50s was a working-class town.

There was oil industry, the board of Corpus Christi, farming, the Naval air station.

My mom was not a happy woman.

She and my dad had a strained relationship for many years.

My father was a beer distributor for the Schlitz Brewing Company.

Terrence: Alcohol was a big part of our family.

There wasn't a day that my parents weren't drunk.

Peter and I would be sometimes hungry at 6:00, at my mother and her friends would be drinking.

We were sort of wet blankets on their lifestyle.

Peter: My father would go into a rage sometimes, and he would just backhand my brother.

Terrence: I remember one night, he literally chased me through at least six, seven backyards of our neighbors.

And people were sitting on their patios having dinner, and there's this guy chasing his son.

And then when he got me, he really -- really hit me.

Peter: My dad was a little bit in denial that he wasn't out playing football and, you know, doing the other things the other kids did.

Here's a teenager producing operas in our garage.

Friends would build sets.

We had neighbors come by the house, they'd say, 'What's going on?'

Terrence: My parents would go, usually, once a year to New York.

They always saw Broadway shows and left the playbills on the counter.

My father loved 'South Pacific,' 'Kiss Me, Kate' and 'Guys and Dolls,' so I knew what theater was because of my parents.

I'm not going to dedicate this to my mother, but I'm going to dedicate it to my high-school English teacher, Maureen McElroy.

And I grew up in a really [bleep] town, and they know I feel that way about it, so... [ Laughter ] I cannot imagine my life without Mrs. McElroy.

She's the first person I met who got me, got my humor, got what I'm smart about, understood what I'm not smart about.

I thought she was just the smartest person I'd ever met.

McElroy: 'Terry, this is a piece of work you should cherish.

It is extraordinarily good for a high-school student.

It has been interesting working with you these two years, watching with pride your growth in perception and your mastery of the writing techniques.

It will also be with pride that I watch your progress next year and the next and the next.

At the present, your greatest weakness is organization of material.

Keep always the freshness of your viewpoint, the honesty of your convictions.

Your integrity is your armor.

I'm glad you're planning to write professionally.

Writing is a highly competitive occupation.

It can be heartbreaking, but you have already learned that if you must write, you simply must.

And so my hope and my prayer go with you in this life you've chosen.

Mrs. McElroy. A plus.'

Terrence: Towards the end of her life, there was a revival of 'Frankie and Johnny' on Broadway.

I flew her up first class, and I put her in the Dorothy Parker Suite at the Algonquin Hotel.

Falco: I will tell you one thing.

I could never, not in a million years, be seriously involved with a man who says, 'Pardon my French,' all the time.

Tucci: Done. Finished. You got it.

Falco: Where do you pick up an expression like that?

Tucci: Out of respect for a person, a woman in this case.

Falco: You know, the first time you said it tonight, I practically told you I had a headache and had to go home.

Tucci: But see, that's so scary that three little words, 'Pardon my French,' could separate two people from saying the three little words that would make them connect.

Falco: What three little words?

Tucci: I love you.

Terrence: Then at the opening night, she was the toast of the party.

♪♪ It's the best thank you I think I've ever given another person.

Peter: A gay guy in the '50s in South Texas would be -- He would be very much in the closet, and when people found out he was gay, they'd beat the [bleep] out of him, no question about that.

Terrence: Growing up in South Texas, I'd had sex with quite a few of my male friends.

There was someone I met at school, and we had a pretty big affair.

One day, we skipped school to go see a 3-D movie, and then afterwards, we went to this cave and were having sex, and the -- One of the classes we'd missed had a field trip, and they were, like, a foot away from us, and the teacher was telling them about why these cliffs were formed.

And I remember -- we both thought, 'Boy, if we'd been caught, that would've changed our lives.'

I grew up thinking the minute I graduate high school, I would go to New York City.

I was accepted at Columbia. I was 17.

And I went to the theater easily two or three nights a week.

I went to see 'My Fair Lady.' It had just opened.

It was a huge hit.

And the people at the box office said, 'You can't get a ticket for a year, but if you really want to see it, there's a line that forms every night at midnight, and they sell standing room at 10:00 A.M. for a dollar.'

So I said, 'Okay.'

I went on to see it, I think, 11 times.

My senior year, there was an announcement in the school paper that no one had written the Varsity Show.

It was a big event to go see these kids put on a musical every spring.

I said, 'I'm going to write the Varsity Show.'

They paired me with Ed Kleban, who wrote 'Chorus Line,' and I remember thinking, 'This is kind of fun.'

I left Columbia educated but fearful, and I'd like to have left feeling educated and confident.

O'Brien: It's an interesting thing about fear.

Fear is the major ingredient to creativity.

I think it kick-starts everything.

Terrence: I knew I was going to be a writer, and the English department gave me an award, and I went off to write a novel, and I -- it just wasn't good.

I knew what I wanted to do, but I didn't, sort of, admit it to myself.

It's kind of presumptuous almost to say, 'I'm gonna be a playwright. I'm gonna work in the theater.'

O'Brien: Edward Albee said the first time he laid eyes on Terrence McNally, he saw the most beautiful face he'd ever seen in his life.

Terrence: I met Edward Albee at a party after a performance of 'The Cradle Will Rock,' a Marc Blitzstein opera, and he said, 'Would you like to come up for a nightcap,' which was not very coded for you know what.

And I said -- I remember saying this so spontaneous.

I said, 'You sure your wife or family won't mind?'

And he looked at me like I was crazy.

I just didn't think he was gay.

Edward was the first boyfriend I ever had, but, you know, was just drunk all the time.

We had a lot of fun, and we had a lot of fights and a lot of sex.

I enjoyed being with Edward when he was writing 'Virginia Woolf.'

Edward had a lot invested in not being out, and, you know, my first play, I was reviewed as a gay man.

Moreno: Those times were really, really, really difficult and frightening for gay men and women.

People really were mostly in the closet, but Terrence didn't have any qualms about who he was.

That was a rare thing then.

Terrence: Shortly after I graduated Columbia, I had this opportunity to work at Actors Studio as a stage manager, and after a while, Molly Kazan said, 'Would you be interested in traveling around the world for a year with John Steinbeck?'

And I said 'Oh, like the writer?'

She said, 'It the writer.'

So I met John Steinbeck and his wife, Elaine, and their two sons, and they said, 'We've interviewed a lot of professional tutors, and we were trying to find somebody we'd feel more compatible with,' and that's how we began the trip.

Edward and I were still officially a couple, but that says something about our relationship, that I had this opportunity and I took it.

John was a very, very famous writer at that point.

He was certainly known everywhere we went.

His books had been translated into every language.

John and Elaine both had an appetite, enthusiasm for art, for history, for the best people can make of themselves, and that was very inspiring to me.

John said, 'Let me give you one bit of advice if you want to be a writer.'

And I said, 'Yeah, what is it?'

And he said, 'Don't write for the theater.

It'll break your heart.'

My first play has whole passages that are very Albee-influenced, as did everyone who was writing plays at that time.

Speaking in your own voice, realizing who you are is a complicated process.

Libin: I met Terrence when we did 'And Things That Go Bump in the Night.'

It's this exploration of a dysfunctional American family and their inability to accept one another.

It's the first Broadway play with a positive, confident, openly gay character.

I made a booking with the Shubert's, and before you knew it, people started buying tickets.

You know, there's nothing more exciting on Broadway to have a show that's sold out on the previews.

And then opening night came, and, boy, the critics just did not embrace it, and that was a shock.

Terrence: I thought, 'This is not a good way to begin my life in the theater.'

John: 'Dear Ter, my heart is sick today.

There is no reason to anticipate or to expect fairness from critics, but I don't think they have the right of malicious mischief.

Your play has faults, of course, so has 'King Lear.'

Elaine says that one should not fight back.

I, myself, think a punch in the nose is healthier.

There is no question about what you should do.

You should go immediately to work.

Only the amateur can hide by pretending he didn't mean it, but you did mean it, and you stirred up the wasp's nest.

As for the play's failing, remember the old Texas saying, 'Who ain't been throwed ain't rode.'

I can't think of anything else to say, but I'm very sad.

Yours, John.'

Terrence: Edward was very supportive of the next generation of playwrights.

He wasn't, I didn't feel, supportive of me as his partner.

I found him withholding, remote, ungenerous.

As much as I loved him, he also was those things.

I'm glad that we were able to become friends again, because we had a very unhappy, angry, bitter breakup.

I mean, I left him, and he was not amused.

♪♪ My second partner was also a huge drinker -- Robert Dreyfuss, the actor.

Dreyfuss: You really are depressed tonight, aren't you?

Terrence: Edward had been kind of an inscrutable person.

Bobby was quite the opposite.

Every feeling he had was on the table.

Dreyfuss: I don't give up that easily.

Woman: That's right. You don't.

You either made it work or smashed it.

Dreyfuss: I stopped smashing things a long time ago.

Terrence: It was a very alcoholic relationship, very tempestuous.

We lived on Bleecker and 10th Street, and we had fights you could have heard on 42nd Street.

The biggest tension always in our relationship is that Bobby did not want to live together even though we spent every night at his apartment.

But he thought if the world knew he was gay, it may be the end of his career.

When people aren't willing to look at the truth about who they are, I think it's going to corrode their souls, their hearts.

Kaplan: He started so early to show Americans who gay people are, that we have the same hopes, dreams and struggles as everyone else.

Terrence did it before anyone else.

He did it better than anyone else.

Porter: I love Terrence McNally.

Terrence McNally is one of the first people that I came across as a gay man who was writing about gay people.

We stand on his shoulders.

I just had to walk 16 flights of steps.

I get to flirt with you all day?

Stock: Yeah, yeah. I was looking forward to it.

I feel so lucky to know Terrence as a person and worked with him on two of his plays.

People see his plays, and they want to live more fully, and they want to live more truthfully, and they want to live more joyfully.

It changed the way I go about the world.

Kaller: Okay. So this is a very, very, very cold reading of 'Noon' by Terrence McNally.

He wrote this in 1968.

Porter: What I found interesting was it transported me to a time, you know, where Terrence is really cutting-edge.

Kaller: Yeah. Porter: And today, we forget that because we've just come so far, but, like, when you think about the character of Kerry and he's coming in and he's gay and he's out -- Kaller: With no shame. Porter: With no shame.

Kaller: Because Terrence writes plays which have nothing to do with being gay but everything to do with not being accepted.

'Kerry has undone Asher's belt, unzipped his fly.

Asher's pants drop to his knees.'

Stock: Hey, I -- Porter: You can't get your pants off with your shoes on, dummy.

Stock: I-I don't want my pants off.

Porter: For Christ's sake. I just want to see you in your shorts.

Stock: Oh, I know, but -- Porter: Guys are guys.

Stock: Huh?

Porter: One of the fundamental ideas that Terrence has addressed is sexuality is sexuality, whether it's heterosexual or homosexual.

We're all human.

We all have the same needs and desires.

You know, we all yearn the same way.

Terrence: In the '60s, there was a lot to write about -- the Civil Rights Movement, the war in Vietnam.

My goal as a writer became to write in my own voice and to find a kind of simplicity that was about the character, not about me.

My second play, which was successful, was called 'Next,' which I wrote for a friend, James Coco, who I thought was this great actor, and I just didn't know why he wasn't more famous.

Lane: Jimmy Coco used to complain and say, 'I'll never be a star.

I'll just be a character actor, and maybe one day I'll do 'Death of a Salesman' at a regional theater and that will be it.'

And Terrence said, 'I'll write you a play.'

And then he wrote 'Next,' the one-act play about the fat, middle-aged man who gets drafted.

Elaine May directed it, and it was a big success Off-Broadway and made Jimmy a star.

Terrence: I learned so much working with Elaine, because I learned nothing from my first play.

I want an audience to understand my characters.

They might be troubled by them, want to think about them a little longer, but if an audience says, 'I just don't get it,' I feel I have failed.

Abraham: My life in the theater began in New York City with Terrence McNally.

One of the first auditions I ever went on was for 'Tommy Flowers.'

So I showed up, and they said, 'No appointment, no agent, no audition.'

Terrence: Murray Abraham showed up in shorts and sandals, and the stage manager said, 'There's a guy out front.

He looks a little crazy to me, and he said he's going to stay and wait.'

Abraham: I was there for hours and hours.

No big deal. It was important.

And I had this wonderful attitude, I have to admit.

Terrence: We saw the last audition, and the stage manager said, 'That's it.

Oh, by the way, I should warn you that actor is still out there sitting on the floor.'

Abraham: The guy finally comes out, and he says, 'All right. [Laughs] Come in, give it a shot.'

Terrence: He'd read one line -- one line.

We go, 'Where have you been? Yes, you have the part.'

Roberts: Terrence wrote 'Bad Habits' for me, and I am eternally grateful because he gave me a career.

Terrence: I wrote 'Bad Habits,' got a wonderful cast of actors, many of whom went on to become very famous, such as Doris.

We did the play at the Manhattan Theatre Club, and the set was Samsonite folding chairs, the lighting cues were the overhead fluorescent lights, which I personally operated.

That play went really well.

We moved it to Off-Broadway, and that same production with those same eight actors moved to Broadway to the Booth Theatre.

It all happened within a year.

That was just bang, bang, bang. It was great.

Man: Now, let's start at the beginning, and I'll try to keep it in laymen's terms.

Everything in life is bad for you -- the air, the sun, the force of gravity, butter, eggs, this cigarette.

Right now, this very moment as I speak these words, you're 10 seconds closer to death than when I started.

Have I made my point?

Now, how would an ice-cold, extra-dry, straight-up Gordon's gin martini grab you?

Terrence: The first apartment I ever bought or owned was some symbol of making it in New York.

My father came in and looked around and says, 'I would have painted it a much different color.'

There were times he did acknowledge my work, but I was also made to feel I wasn't good enough, I didn't measure up.

And then you finally figure out, 'Wait, I've got to be who I am,' not letting other people decide what a good play or a good son is.

Did you get yourself something? Roos: I just got a little salad because I'm not doing bread right now.

Terrence: Because you're fat, I know.

Don Roos, who I consider my best friend, he said that my parents were a little frightened of me.

Roos: When did you tell her that you were gay?

Did you have that conversation, where you sat down?

Terrence: Not really, no. No. Roos: No.

But you had to have introduced somebody as -- Terrence: Not really.

I think it was the last time my father tried to get me to buy life insurance.

I said, 'Dad, I'm gay. You know that.

Edward and I -- This is our bedroom.

There was a bed.

Straight men do not sleep in the same bed together.

Roos: How was he? Terrence: What?

Roos: How did he take it?

Terrence: Just stay in New York with your, you know -- just... Roos: Your lifestyle. Terrence: Yeah.

They were the original 'don't ask, don't tell, and we'll all get along fine.'

There's a difference between not knowing it and not wanting you to know it.

Roos: Yeah.

Terrence: Oh, I know several straight men who don't know they're really gay... Roos: Mm-hmm. Terrence: ...starting with my father.

You were going to suggest that? Roos: Yes.

Terrence: The need, the passion to connect is everything.

You could say all theater people are building surrogate families.

Roos: Terrence can get very, very hurt by actors not being faithful.

He gets huge crushes on actors who have their own agendas and schedules and commitments.

Lane: He's intense.

He's not unlike some of these characters.

Of course I would've been wonderful in the part!

It was written for me. Thank God for my series.

As much as he loves you, there's a little possessiveness about that love.

The egos in this business!

Ahrens: One of the things that I love about Terrence and that also terrifies me is that he's an absolute stickler for punctuation and for the way his lines are meant to be read and what he's hearing when he writes it.

And I have actually been present not once but several times when he has gathered the company together, the actors, to lecture them about what his punctuation means.

Terrence: I don't like actors who add 'uhs,' 'ahs,' 'I mean,' 'you knows,' sighs, sobs, gurgles.

I know what a comma means. I know what a semicolon means.

I know what a dash means.

Ahrens: He writes exactly what he wants on the page and will stand up for it.

Moreno: For at least a couple of years before 'The Ritz,' nothing was happening for me in terms of my career.

I ran into James Coco on the street, who asked me if I had received a script called 'The Tubs,' which eventually became 'The Ritz.'

And I said, 'The what?'

He said, 'Terrence McNally wrote this part for you in a play about gay Turkish baths.'

'No rain,' he tells me.

'No rain,' he says. 'No rain.'

[Bleep] weathermen.

Abraham: In this wild farce full of crazy people, the most sane person was my character, who was completely, outrageously gay.

And I think this was why the play was written.

Terrence was way ahead of his time.

As strange as it may seem, no one is going to attack you.

Man: Someone already has.

Abraham: Eh, beginner's luck.

Lansbury: 'The Ritz' was pretty shocking, really.

I think that everybody who saw it was sort of taken aback.

Moreno: When 'The Ritz' opened in Washington, D.C., we got murdered.

We got murdered, just lacerated.

They hated it.

They didn't think it was funny.

They thought I was horrible.

Man: And the winner... Moreno: When we got to New York, everybody loved it.

Man: ...is Rita Moreno for 'The Ritz'! Moreno: Getting the Tony was the thrill of my life.

[ Applause ] Thank you!

Yeah!

Terrence: I'd been involved with two men, and when it was convenient to them, I was invisible.

Edward was never proud to say, 'This is my partner,' and Bobby didn't know me at a movie premier or a business situation.

♪♪ Bobby wanted to be successful more than he wanted anything, and I wanted to be in love more than I wanted to be a successful playwright.

I wanted to be in a good relationship.

Cuskern: Terrence was in London doing a movie version of 'The Ritz,' which was being directed by Richard Lester.

A friend of mine who worked for William Morris called me, and he said, 'I'd love it if you could go to an opera with him one night,' and I said, 'Sure.'

I wasn't expecting anything romantic.

The door opened, and there was Terrence McNally.

Terrence: And we sort of got together right away, and then he ended up coming to New York.

Cuskern: And talk about kindness.

I mean, every penny of my tuition -- I went to Columbia, got my master's at Columbia -- Terrence paid for.

Terrence: When Dominic and I met, I was drinking my most heavily.

I was just drunk all the time, and Dominic doesn't drink at all.

Peter: Terry told me, 'Did you know, they used to think I was a good playwright, and I convinced myself I was a good playwright.'

He says, 'One time I woke up and I hadn't done any work in 18 months, but I was drinking a quart of scotch a day.'

Roos: When I met him in 1982, he'd kind of run out of steam, run out of -- Friends in New York, I think, were upset with him about his drinking.

Terrence: I was at a birthday party for Stephen Sondheim, and I was drunk, as usual, and I spilled my drink on Lauren Bacall, and she tore me a new one.

A few minutes later, Angela Lansbury came up to me and said, 'Terrence, can I talk to you a second?'

Lansbury: It was a hell of a thing to take upon myself, but I had had so much experience with my own children being decimated by drugs and booze, and I thought, 'Here's this brilliant, beautiful young man whose life is just going to do down the drain unless he takes charge of himself.'

He's the only person I've ever done this to.

I said to him, 'Why are you destroying yourself?

You're a brilliant writer.

Listen.

Listen to what I'm saying.

Stop drinking.'

Terrence: She was so gentle and loving about it, as opposed to Lauren Bacall, who was angry, and, 'I'm going to send you the bill from the dry-cleaner' and made me feel like a bad boy.

Angela Lansbury made me feel like someone cared about me.

Dominic was really the steadying influence in my life.

And then one day, he just sort of burst into tears, and he said, 'I'm in love with someone else.

I've been having an affair.'

Cuskern: I told him I love him and I can't not be with him.

I have to be with him.

Terrence: I was shocked.

I was angry.

I felt stupid.

I felt really stupid.

How could I not have been aware of the person you're sleeping with every night, that they're in love with someone else?

Roos: Terrence was broke.

He had just broken up with Dominic.

He was very newly sober, and he had kind of crashed and burned with the play 'Broadway, Broadway,' which didn't come to New York, and it was a big, big career disappointment.

He had kind of run into a wall, but he said, 'It's okay because I've got a great idea for a brand-new play.'

And I said, 'Okay. What's it about?'

He goes, 'It's about a short-order cook and a waitress and their one night together.'

And I thought to myself, 'That's a terrible idea. Oh, my God.'

I think in 'Frankie and Johnny,' I wanted to make romantic figures out of ordinary people.

I was 40, not in a relationship, and I went to the video-rental place, and there was a big line, and I realized all these people are going to spend the weekend alone in their apartment eating junk food, watching 10 movies.

And I said, 'You know, I'm not the only one in the world who feels lonely.'

That's where I got the idea for 'Frankie and Johnny.'

And then, of course, there's that scary thing.

'Am I going to be able to write sober?'

Abraham: 'I want to kill myself sometimes when I think that I'm the only person in the world, and that part of me that fells that way is trapped inside this body that only bumps into other bodies without ever connecting to the only other person in the world trapped inside of them.

We have to connect. We just have to.'

Phew.

Falco: It's like, you know, the plant that insists on finding the light through the cracks in the sidewalk, you know?

People will search for that connection.

You still want a sandwich before you go?

Tucci: Yeah, I still want a sandwich. Falco: But then you're going.

You're not staying over.

Tucci: Well, we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.

Falco: There is no bridge to cross.

Tucci: What are you scared of?

Falco: I'm not scared.

I'm not scared of -- Tucci: Yes, you are.

Falco: Well, not like in a horror movie.

I don't think you're going to pull out a knife and stab me, if that's what you're talking about.

Can we change the subject? Tucci: What do you mean?

Falco: Come on! You're going to stand there and tell me you're not weird?

Tucci: Of course I'm weird!

Falco: There's a whole nother side of you I never saw at work.

Tucci: Well, what did you think, all I did was cook?

Falco: There's a whole nother side of you I never saw when we were doing it, either.

Tucci: Well, that's because it was probably your first time with a passionate and imaginative lover.

At last, I get to see and talk to you.

Falco: I know. To think that we both sat and memorized these lines and worked on them and dealt with blocking and had opening nights, and, you know, of the same stuff.

Two very different people, different times in our lives and, you know, different productions, but it's all Terrence.

Tucci: Did you ever feel like you were -- Did you think you were attractive growing up?

I never thought I was attractive. Falco: No.

Feeling like kind of the outsider and not quite knowing how to... Tucci: Oh, yeah.

Falco: ...how to connect and all that stuff.

Tucci: Awkward. Yeah, what a drag, and what a nice discovery, late, to find out that I'm terrifically attractive.

Falco: Yes, yes, absolutely. I'm with you on that.

Tucci: Better late than never. Falco: Oh, my God, absolutely.

Tucci: How did you feel about taking your clothes off?

Was that the first time you did it?

Falco: Yeah, it was.

I was nervous as hell.

The nakedness in 'Frankie and Johnny' isn't just physical.

I mean, they clearly, on some level, want to connect, want to have someone see their insides, though there's so much fear attached to that, as well, and I think that's what the play is about.

Tucci: He really -- He can write.

Falco: Yeah.

Terrence: I've never used nudity in the theater for a salacious reason.

I think it's meaningful and natural.

I go to the theater to see characters strip themselves of their secrets to let us see into their hearts.

Roos: In 1985, Bobby Drivas came to my house, and he looked very ill, and he was very thin and very, very weak.

Terrence: It wasn't like you turned the page and it said, 'AIDS.'

There wasn't that defining moment.

The more defining moment was when a friend of yours was sick and you saw it firsthand.

I had several friends, including Bobby Drivas, who died in such solitude because they were so ashamed of having AIDS, of being gay.

That made me more militant than ever about being out.

Thomas: All lovers young, all lovers must consign to thee and come to dust.

You know what's really terrible?

I can't think of anything terrific to say.

In my own words, I mean.

And I'm the writer in the family.

Goodbye.

I love you.

Peter: To my mother's dying day, I don't think she really understood my brother.

She would always be the life of the party in New York, but when Terry would come home to Corpus Christi, he was kind of sequestered or cloistered because she didn't want her friends to realize that he might be a gay man.

Baitz: The great thing about Terrence is that he's really supportive of the new.

When I was a young playwright, he came to my first play.

I remember just not knowing anything, and Terrence was extremely generous and encouraging.

He made it easy to feel that you were up here.

I still try and remember that lesson to this day.

Terrence: A lot of theater people are lazy.

They don't go to enough plays.

They don't know who the new talent is.

Why live in New York City and not take advantage of everything that's out there?

Lane: I'd have no career if it wasn't for Terrence McNally.

When it comes to Terrence McNally tributes, I'm pretty much on speed dial for the tristate area.

[ Laughter ] It's not surprising.

We have a unique relationship in the American theater that began with 'The Lisbon Traviata' back in 1989 right up to last season's Broadway revival of 'It's Only a Play.'

Please understand that even after all these years, it's not hard to find nice things to say about Terrence McNally.

He's a brilliant writer an a wonderful man.

Although... [ Laughter ] ...yes, he's nice, but he's not that nice.

I'm not going to pull any punches.

He has done hard time in the slammer.

Obviously he has killed people.

[ Laughter ] When I wrote this [bleep] I didn't know it would be for an opera society.

Terrence and I met around 1987 at the Manhattan Theatre Club.

They were doing 'Frankie and Johnny' in the smaller theater, and I was doing a play on the main stage.

It was not going very well.

I went and sat outside in the lobby, and I think I had my head in my hands, and Terrence saw me and came up to me and introduced himself and said, 'Hi. I'm Terrence McNally.'

Terrence: Remember I saw you in the lobby of the theater... Lane: That's right. Terrence: ...and you were upset with the play you were in?

Lane: Yes. Terrence: And I said, 'I'll write a play for you one day.'

And then when we couldn't cast 'Lisbon Traviata,' I said, 'Let's bring in Nathan Lane.'

They all said, 'Oh, he's too young.

He's great, but he's 20 years too young for the role.'

I said, 'I don't care.' And then you read three words, and, you know, I remember you said, 'Should I stop?'

And everyone said, 'No, go on,' and you read the entire phone call, which is, what, a 15-minute tour de force.

You know, God, I don't know how many plays we've done since.

Lane: And he was really the first person who said, 'You know, you're more than just funny. You're an actor.'

Terrence: 'The Lisbon Traviata' was about my obsession with Maria Callas operas and a sense of betrayal.

I wanted to write a play in which a man, rather than lose the man he loved, killed him, stabbed him.

Lane: It was incredibly witty and brave, you know, like Beckett, It's funny, and then, suddenly, life is not so funny.

Tillinger: There was one performance where, suddenly, a woman stood up and shouted from the back, 'Where's the plot? I want some plot!'

and stormed out of the theater.

And Nathan said, 'Well, stick around, and you'll see.'

Slattery: You know, I remember the audition for 'Lisbon Traviata.'

Joey said, 'I hate to ask you to do this, but will you take your shirt off?'

Because, of course, I had to be -- you know, show up naked.

And then I said, 'Yeah, sure.' Terrence: You made your debut... Slattery: Debut in New York City.

Terrence: ...in New York stark naked.

Slattery: Oh! Great, great lines. Great jokes.

Terrence: You were so wonderful in it, and you weren't just eye candy in the play by any means, you know?

You were kind of the hero of the -- I mean, if there was another way of living, you know, and you and Mike represented -- Slattery: Yeah, uncomplicated.

[ Applause ] Wasserstein: It's wonderful to be here to give an award tonight to my very close friend Terrence McNally because 'Lips Together' is a wonderful play and also because Terrence has more anxiety about writing a play than any writer I know.

Terrence, before sitting down to write a play, does all his mail, pays all his bills.

He tries to listen to every CD in his house that he hasn't listened to, which is quite a bit to do.

He then works up his anxiety and begins thinking, 'Lynne Meadow hates me.

The William Morris Agency hates me.

My mother, Dot, from Texas hates me.

Nathan Lane hates me. What am I going to do?'

And then, at around 4:00 in the morning, sweating, he begins writing a play, and inevitably, these plays are always wonderful.

So I'm very happy to give you this award tonight, Terrence.

Terrence: Wendy was a student at Yale when I was as a playwright in residence and, I thought, was a very talented, funny writer.

I mean, everybody adored Wendy -- just witty, smart.

What was not to like?

She came to New York, and pretty quickly, she was in the vanguard of the next generation of playwrights.

We became just very good friends, very close.

She was someone I could call at any hour of the day, laughing, talking, gossiping.

♪♪ Peter: I knew Terry and Wendy were friends, but one time, I guess they thought we were out of sight, and she was getting a cab out in front of Terry's apartment, and he gives her the biggest romantic kiss, and I was just like, 'Wow. He's got a girlfriend.'

Roos: I had seen the cost of being gay in the '80s, and I was, like, suspicious.

Are you -- Do you just not want to be gay right now because it's not the greatest time?

But he did not see it that way.

He truly had a love affair with Wendy.

Terrence: Some people aren't meant to be together, I guess, but it took a few years to figure that out.

It ended, but I'm glad we've stayed great friends.

Wendy was good at keeping secrets.

People didn't even know that she was not well.

Her death was... It's just a shock to people.

It happened so -- Not only was she young, but it happened so suddenly.

It's just a terrible loss of a vital, wonderful human being.

♪♪ Baranski: It was the middle of winter, so New York was so bleak, and, as usual, I was struggling financially.

I heard from Lynne Meadow that Terrence wanted to write a play for four of his favorite actors, one of whom was me.

'Lips Together' was about people living in denial about cancer and infidelity and middle age and paranoia about AIDS.

Terrence: They all sort of agreed to do a play that I hadn't really written yet.

We were all much younger, and the world was a different place.

Heald: I periodically called Manhattan Theatre Club.

It's, 'How's Terrence doing with that play?'

'He's still working on it.'

Waiting and waiting.

Finally, I got the call, so I got the script, got back on the subway, started to read it, got home.

I said to my wife, 'This is terrible.

This is terrible. I can't do this.'

She said, 'You have to do it. He wrote it for you.'

Tillinger: Frankly, it was a bloodbath.

It was very raunchy and, I felt, couldn't be played on the stage.

We did the first reading, and both Christine and Nathan got very angry because they had been promised rewrites.

Lane: At one point, Tony threw the script across the room and said, 'Well, this will never work!'

Baranski: This is the first time in my career I ever did this.

I actually spoke up and very honestly to Terrence.

I said, 'You've put us in a position where I don't know if we'll be able to reach that place where the play will be ready,' and it was scary.

I just left to go to the ladies' room, and Terrence saw me in the hall, and he said, 'Thank you for that. I hear what you have to say.

I heard what you have to say. Thank you so much.'

And I will never forget that as long as I live.

Heald: And it's like he just went home and, boom, it sprang out of his head right onto the paper.

Lane: It was just beautiful.

One minute, people are laughing, and the next minute, it's like, 'Oh, wait a minute,' And it leads into my favorite thing that Christine says to me.

And he says, 'I need to know the truth.'

And she says, 'The truth -- [bleep] the truth.

The truth has hurt more people than all the lies that were ever told.'

[ Piano plays ] ♪♪ ♪♪ Kander: The idea of telling stories by singing, I think that's something Terrence and I shared from the moment we met each other.

[ Playing continues ] Fred and I were working with another writer for 'The Rink,' and it just wasn't happening, but when Terrence came on board, the piece took a shift, and we found ourselves working in a wonderfully smooth, harmonious, interesting way.

Rivera: This is just our temporary commercial of our new musical, 'The Rink.' It's a story of a mother.

Minnelli: And the story of a daughter and the roller rink they call home.

Rivera: 'The Rink.' When we get a free minute, we'll do the real commercial.

Minnelli: With sets and singing. Rivera: Costumes and skating and lots of... Minnelli: ♪ Colored lights Rivera: ♪ Where are my colored lights?

'The Rink' was an extraordinary experience for me.

I remember seeing Terrence in the back of the room on his typewriter, diligently changing things, and that's how the show becomes what it is, the words, the music, the steps.

All of the pieces have to fit.

Kander: I think 'The Rink' is one of the best pieces, one of the best things that we ever wrote.

Rivera: We loved the show.

We loved doing it every night.

The audiences loved it.

The critics said some pretty startling and terrible things.

Kander: Our reaction to the critics was bewilderment.

I don't think I ever really quite got over that.

Terrence: We're so obsessed with hits because no one likes a hit more than me, but they don't happen that often.

It's rare.

Rivera: I think our defense is just doing the very best we can and doing the piece that we really love, and screw it, otherwise.

What are you going to do?

♪ So close your eyes ♪ And you can be a movie star ♪ Why must you stay ♪ Where you are Freddy and John called me about 'Kiss of the Spider Woman.'

Boy, what a phenomenal show.

It was written so magnificently.

Carver: The nicest thing about being happy, you think you'll never be unhappy again.

Kander: If there was a musical moment, Terrence would usually write it in prose, the most gorgeous prose you've ever read, and we would steal shamelessly lines and attitudes from those moments.

He seemed perfectly content with that.

Terrence: The first time I won a Tony, it was the first time I had been nominated, was 'Kiss of the Spider Woman.'

Winning awards does not change the struggle to be an authentic person.

Who you were is still who you are when you get home.

You still have to face a blank screen and start a new play.

Thank you very much.

This means a lot to someone who grew up dancing around the house to his parents' Broadway cast albums.

Other guys were collecting baseball cards.

I was doing 'Too Darn Hot.'

[ Laughter ] ♪♪ Until I went to India, I think I had always experienced life as the conflict between regret for the past and sort of a dread of the future.

The minute I got off the plane, I felt very small, but at the same time, I found that very enlarging.

I'd never heard of the god Ganesha until I went to India.

I loved Ganesha right away because he was humble and he believes in impossible things.

Looks just like me, doesn't he?

Daly: 'I am a god. My name is Ganesha.

I am also called Vighneshvara, the queller of obstacles.

To this day, before any venture is undertaken, it is Ganesha who is invoked and whose blessings are sought.

Once asked, always granted.

I am a good god, cheerful, giving, often smiling, seldom sad.

I am everywhere.

I am in your mind and in the thoughts you think in your heart, whether full or broken, in your face, and in the very air you breathe.

Inhale [inhales deeply] Ganesha, exhale [exhales deeply] Ganesha.

[Speaks foreign language] Ganesha.

I am in what you eat and evacuate.

I am sunlight, moonlight, dawn, and dusk.

I am stool. I am your kiss. I am your cancer.

I am the smallest insect that crawls across your picnic basket toward your potato salad.

I am in your hand that squashes it.

I am everywhere.

I am happy. I am Ganesha.'

♪♪ Terrence: I met Gary at a play by Robbie Baitz, directed by Joe Mantello.

The person sitting next to me said, 'I really enjoyed this,' and he started talking about it, and that's how it sort of began.

Mantello: Gary was an angel.

He was one of the great people.

He had a kind of genuine, genuine goodness about him.

Terrence: That first night, I guess, he said, 'I'm HIV positive.'

It was very scary, but I said, 'Okay.

I think I can deal with that.'

And this was before people started living long, successful, healthy lives.

Kirk: I think you've come to look more and more like each other over the years.

Heald: You haven't known us that long.

Hickey: Oh, that's not what he's saying.

Kirk: I think that you love each other very much.

I think you will stick it out, whatever.

I think, right now, you're holding hands, that, when Perry has to take his hand from yours, Arthur, to steer in traffic, he puts it back in yours as soon as he can.

I think this is how you always drive.

I think this is how you go through life.

Meadow: When I first read 'Love! Valour! Compassion!,' I knew that Terrence had gone to, now, a completely new level.

I believed in the play from the beginning, but I knew that we needed a strong director to corral it.

Mantello: Terrence changed my life in so many profound ways.

Terrence: I had been watching his work for a couple of years at the Directors Lab at Circle Rep, and I kept being impressed by the work of this young guy called Joe Mantello.

Mantello: There were a lot of other directors that they were meeting with who had a lot more experience and would have been the safer, probably wiser choice.

Terrence: So I sort of had to sell him, and they said, 'No.

We insist you send the play to three other Tony Award-winning directors.'

But the only one who experienced the play as I wished it to be experienced in the theater by an audience was Joe.

Mantello: He's the person who said, 'You should direct an opera.'

He made it a condition of the sale of the play, 'Love! Valour!,' that I direct the film.

He gave me my first musical.

Glover: Terrence sort of makes me weep just because he's got this thing that goes into you that comes from his soul and kind of goes into yours.

It's very [chuckles] powerful.

What's your secret, the secret of unconditional love?

My brother smiled warmly and shook his head, suggesting he didn't know, dear spectators.

And just then, a tear started to fall from the corner of one eye.

This tear told me my brother knew something of the pain I felt of never, ever, not once being loved.

Hickey: The word was out that Terrence had written this beautiful play, this big play about gay guys, friendship, family, love, loss.

Terrence: John Glover, the wonderful actor who's been in a lot of my plays, used to call it, that period in the spring, 'Love! Valour! Competition!'

Hickey: When I read the script of 'Love! Valour! Compassion!,' I don't remember how many pages it was.

I just remember it was, like, this thick.

Glover: It was a real puzzle to figure out.

Mantello: A lot of the process was about editing the script and whittling it down from this wonderful, huge evening to what it is now.

Terrence: Sometimes I'm the last one to understand what I've written.

We find the play together in the rehearsal room.

Lane: At one point, a week or so before we were about to go into the theater, Terrence said, 'I feel something is missing through your character in the third act.'

And I said, 'Maybe it's nothing more than, 'Life isn't like a musical comedy.

There's no guaranteed happy ending.'' And he said, 'Okay,' and he went away.

Then -- And then Joe called me one morning and said, 'Well, he's written this scene that's extraordinary.

Hickey: And it just knocked our socks off, and I remember Nathan like it was yesterday.

The first time he read it, he killed it.

You circles don't all have happy endings, either.

Heald: Yes, they do.

That's why I like them, even the sad ones.

The orchestra plays. The characters die.

The audience cries. The curtain falls.

The actors get up off the floor.

The audience puts on their coats, and everybody goes home feeling better.

That's a happy ending, Perry.

Once, just once, I want to see a 'West Side Story' where Tony really gets it, where they all die, the Sharks and the Jets and Maria!

And Officer Krupke, what's he doing sneaking out of the theater?

Get back here and die with everybody else, you son of a bitch!

Or 'A King and I' where Yul Brynner doesn't get up from that little Siamese bed for a curtain call.

I want to see a 'Sound of Music' where the entire von Trapp family dies... [ Cheers and applause ] ...in an authentic Alpine avalanche!

And 'Kiss Me, Kate,' where she's got a big [bleep] cold sore on her mouth!

'A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum,' where the only thing that happens is nothing and it's not funny and they all die waiting, waiting, waiting for what?

Waiting for nothing, like everyone I know and care about is, including me.

That's the musical I want to see, Perry, but they don't write musicals like that anymore!

In the meantime, 'Gangway, world. Get off of my runway.'

Hickey: It's sidesplittingly funny, it's angry, and it's devastatingly sad all at the same time.

♪♪ ♪♪ Terrence: The only person who ever would be angry at me for putting her in a play was my mother, and she said it after every play of mine she saw, including 'Master Class.'

'Well, how you could put me up on the stage like that?'

And I said, 'Mom, I really don't think anyone will ever confuse you with Maria Callas.'

When I was still in high school, I fell madly in love with the voice of Maria Callas.

Callas: [ Singing operatically in foreign language ] Terrence: And then 30 years later, I was teaching playwriting at Juilliard, and I saw a sign that said, 'Master class, Leontyne Price, 4:00 P.M.'

Callas: [ Singing operatically in foreign language ] Terrence: I thought, 'That's going to be a play -- 'Master Class,' Maria Callas.'

And I went on to do the rest.

Oh, I'm on camera. It's Terrence McNally speaking to you from 45th Street.

McDonald: I wasn't an actress before 'Master Class.'

Confronting the hurricane that is Zoe Caldwell onstage, that's a force, and you either get up there and, you know, become a hurricane yourself, or you get blown off the stage.

Caldwell: You all think you're so special.

You're a dime a dozen.

There are hundreds, no, thousands of you out there, auditioning, studying, going here or there, hither, and yon.

You expect people to remember you if you don't have a look?

[ Laughs ] I was never arrogant that way.

I knew I needed a look, and I got one.

But you, yes, you, and, uh, don't take this personally.

[ Laughter ] You don't have a look.

[ Laughter continues ] You look very nice. I'm sure you are.

You look very clean, very... but you don't have a look.

Get one... [ Laughter ] ...as quickly as possible.

It's much easier than practicing your scales.

McDonald: I first heard about 'Master Class' from a friend of mine who told me, 'You should go on an audition.'

I was only a year and a half out of Juilliard, and I would get so nervous.

I would pass out and wake up on the floor, and everybody else would be scared to death, and I'd be like, 'Oh, I'm fine. I'm fine. I'm fine.'

I remember Terrence and Zoe Caldwell being there, and I remember clutching the side of the piano as I tried to sing and thinking, 'Well, I've blown this.'

And then Terrence took me to lunch, and he just kind of disarmed me, in a way, put me completely at ease.

Caldwell: Do you believe women can have balls, Sharon?

McDonald: Yes, I do.

Caldwell: ...Is daring you to show us yours.

Will you do it?

McDonald: Yes.

Caldwell: Andiamo.

♪♪ McDonald: I was very excited to go see 'Master Class,' the revival, in 2011, and Zoe Caldwell and I went on a date, and Tyne was spectacular in the role.

Daly: So what are you doing out here? Go away.

We don't want to see you yet.

Boggess: You want me to go off and come back out?

Daly: No. I want you to enter.

You're on a stage. Use it. Own it.

This is opera, not a voice recital.

Anyone can stand there and sing.

An artist enters and is.

She's jealous and competitive and sad and so many yummy things to act.

♪♪ Ahrens: Almost two decades later, I find my myself amazed.

Every time I see a production of 'Ragtime,' it goes back to E.L. Doctorow's novel, and Terrence's amazing book, it continues to be so relevant -- immigration, terrorism, the travails of African-Americans, how we are constantly in change, constantly in turmoil.

McDonald: What was so beautiful about 'Ragtime,' you know, is also attributed to Terrence's work.

Stokes Mitchell: Let me pass.

Man: That will be $25.

McDonald: It's just making everybody look at how different we are, but at the same time, we are all so similar.

Mazzie: I got a call to come in and audition for Mother in 'Ragtime.'

I had read the script, and I had read the Doctorow novel, and I was so excited because it was Terrence McNally, and I was a huge admirer of his plays.

Flaherty: Marin just has one of the most exquisite voices ever, and she's fearless.

Ahrens: Mother did not have a song in act two.

That was a moment where she finally stood her ground and became a woman who was stepping into the 20th century.

Flaherty: Terrence would come up with these flashes of brilliance, which would, really, lead us to the song, to the musical idea.

He wrote a beautiful speech called 'Back to Before.'

Ahrens: Terrence said, 'I wrote something,' and he handed me a manila envelope.

He said, 'Don't read it now. Just take it with you.'

And I got in the cab.

I immediately opened up this envelope, and I read his monologue, and I burst into tears.

♪ You were my sky ♪ My moon and my stars and my ocean ♪ It was the jumping-off point for the entire show ♪ We can never go back ♪ To before ♪♪ Terrence: Gary seemed really very well.

We did a bicycle tour of Cuba and had a wonderful time.

And we came back, and the very next morning, he said, 'Oh, my God. I can't see.'

Right away, we went to the doctor, and this doctor was introduced as the doctor for the Shah of Iran and Mrs. Onassis, Jackie, Jackie O., and I said to Gary, 'That's not much of a recommendation.

They're both dead.'

Mantello: I got a call from Terrence saying, 'If you'd like to see Gary, you should probably come today.'

It was the first time that I ever had to say goodbye to someone... where it was really like, 'Oh, this is the moment that you get to say to someone what they meant to you and just say 'I love you.'' Terrence: We need people like Gary to remind us that life is still good, that theater is still worth doing, and that love, humanity, grace are still possible.

Kaplan: Art can move faster than society.

Corpus Christi was out there in advance of lawyers and activists like me.

Meadow: For at least four years, we kept announcing that we were going to do this play called 'Corpus Christi.'

Terrence was on fire in that period.

His role at Manhattan Theatre Club was just seminal to our growth, to his growth.

Mantello: Very early on, we got a group of great actors and did a reading at Manhattan Theatre Club.

All of a sudden, this earnest little play was thrust into the spotlight.

Reporter: A controversial play is sending shock waves from New York City across the whole country.

When a theater announced it would be performing a non-Biblical depiction of a gay Jesus Christ character, it got death threats.

Baitz: You have to be brave to write a play of spiritual substance.

You know, it's a dangerous thing.

Libin: Manhattan Theatre Club undertook to do 'Corpus Christi,' and then they abandoned it because of pressure.

Meadow: I had asked Terrence to postpone his play for a year because I felt that the play needed to have more work.

In our 25-year history, we have never censored a play nor turned a play down because of content.

In the face of these accusations, we took steps to further evaluate what has always been the only issue for us -- safety and security.

Terrence: MTC said, 'We're going to have to cancel this,' and I said, 'Well, before you do, I think you should think long and hard.'

Kushner: We think it's incredibly important to tell bigots and crazy people that, in New York City, freedom of expression is sacrosanct.

Terrence: Finally, they opened the play under vigorous security, and it was a very hot ticket through the entire length of the run.

Even though the controversy kind of overwhelmed the actual play, but as an artistic experience and moment in my life, it's one of my things I most treasure.

Roos: Now, if you're a cobbler, by your 100th shoe, you know how to make a shoe work, but it's not the same thing with a play.

It keeps you young and fresh and humble, but it also, I think, prevents you from ever thinking, 'I've got this.'

Every play is precarious.

'Will this live? Will this take on its life?'

There's a lot at stake for him, and Terrence loves that challenge.

Freeman: They may not be young, and they may not be pretty.

They may not even be very good, but tonight, for one night only, they're here.

They're live, and they're going for no less than the full monty.

O'Brien: This is such a gritty, real story, and I would talk to Terrence and say, 'These are not performers. These are guys.

I wonder if we can do a naturalistic musical in which nobody seems to be performing, so that the music and the dialogue just simply flow together?'

And, by God, we did.

Wilson: I was in a prep school, and my first play that I did was nixed my Terrence McNally.

And I really got into this character in my own little 17-year-old way, and I remember, by the end of the play, I was in tears.

I couldn't even finish the play.

And the lights went down, and I just felt very raw, and I felt like, 'Wow, I guess that's what acting is.'

Terrence: I went by the theater one night, and I saw Patrick Wilson in a Gershwin review, and I thought, 'This guy is really great, and we're casting 'Full Monty.'' David Yazbek wrote a brilliant score, and we had a wonderful, perfect cast.

The characters in 'Full Monty,' to me, represent everybody who's got some gumption and wants to better themselves, and I just loved writing these six men.

Wilson: This show was as much about life and love and not taking anybody for granted as any show that I've ever been a part of.

Who you calling a loser? Cutro: You're my father.

You're almost a great father.

You said we needed a killing. This is it.

Everyone we know is out there.

Wilson: You think I'm a great father?

Cutro: I said 'almost.'

I love you, you big [bleep] [ Laughter ] O'Brien: When you think about Terrence, well, what's the category that leaps to mind?

All: ♪ Let it go O'Brien: Musical librettist, gay historian, comic writer, romantic, bring it on.

♪♪ ♪♪ Kirdahy: Come on, maestro, what are we eating today?

Terrence: I don't know. Look at the patterns on these.

They're so beautiful.

I'd buy a shirt with that pattern.

I would. It's beautiful. Kirdahy: I know you would.

Terrence: What flowers do you like?

Not many people will fess up to love at first sight, but I will, and I believe in it.

Kirdahy: It was a Sunday afternoon in June of 2001.

I put together an afternoon panel called Theater from a Gay Perspective.

Terrence: I thought, 'Oye, Another panel on gay theater?

I'm so tired of them.'

But my mother was visiting from Texas.

I said, 'Well, it's something to take Mom to,' so I said, 'Yes.'

My mother died shortly after that.

It was really the last time I saw her.

Kirdahy: It is so exciting for me to be part of a panel discussion with these three distinguished playwrights today.

We had Edward Albee, Lanford Wilson, and Terrence McNally on the panel.

At the time, I was lawyering, I was still doing HIV work, but at a very young age, I fell in love with the theater, so I was absolutely starstruck.

Terrence: It's very convenient for critics to call the three of us gay writers because it fits us into a little compartment.

Imagine how absurd it would be to call Arthur Miller or David Mamet straight writers.

It shows how marginalized gay men and lesbians are in our society.

Kirdahy: I just thought, 'Wow, that guy, those eyes are just ablaze, and he's so funny,' and we hit it off.

Terrence: My first date with Tom Kirdahy, I made spaghetti with a store-bought tomato sauce, so I don't call that cooking.

I call that boiling water.

Kirdahy: We talked, and we talked for hours, and we talked about my work as an AIDS attorney.

Terrence talked a lot about Gary Bonasorte, and I loved the way he spoke about this man he loved.

I was very moved by that.

Terrence: There was instant, instant connection.

Kirdahy: Our days together were incredible.

By Thanksgiving, it's clear we're falling in love, and Terrence said, 'Look, we need to have a conversation.

I've been diagnosed with lung cancer.

I have struggled with when and how to tell you, but I'm going to have major lung surgery on December 10th, and I think it's unfair not to share that information with you.'

Terrence: I expected him to say, 'Give me a ring when you get better.'

Instead, he said, 'I'd like to go through this with you,' and Tom was there every inch of the way.

Kirdahy: That first year, there were six or seven hospitalizations, and there was enormous fear that he wasn't going to make it.

Terrence: 'I have cancer, Sally. It's only a little speck now, a microscopic dot of pain and terror, but they tell me it will soon grow and ripen and flower in this fertile bed of malignancy that has somehow become my body.'

'No cancer will be worse than mine.

No, none more virulent, more horrendous, more agonizing.'

'I'm scared. I'm very, very scared.'

♪♪ Kirdahy: Terrence now has a quarter of a lung on one side and a half a lung on the other side, so he's got less than a lung, and he's doing great.

♪♪ After the cancer, it was like he'd experienced a rebirth.

There were new plays, on Broadway and off, musicals, operas, and I was so thrilled to be by his side.

♪♪ ♪♪ Officiant: We're gathered here today to witness the reaffirming of marriage vows of Terrence McNally and Thomas Kirdahy.

If there is anyone present today who knows of any reason why this couple should not reaffirm their vows, let them speak now or forever hold their peace.

Excellent.

Terrence: Being happily married to Tom has really made me trusting of life in a way that there wasn't before.

You know, I've had some terrific relationships, but this is the one that, really, matters the most.

Officiant: By the powers vested in me, by the state of New York, I repronounce you married, and you may seal your vows with a kiss.

[ Cheers and applause ] Terrence: When people say, 'When are you going to retire,' I sort of want to hit them.

I've got about three plays I want to write.

I'm still the most critical of my work.

I'm more critical of my work than any director or actor and, God knows, any critic will ever be.

I think maybe a lack of self-confidence has motivated me and kept me going 78 years.

Kaller: 'Mothers and Sons' is about forgiveness, and even if we can't forgive, we have to move forward.

Daly: He was barely 18 when he left Texas.

That's too young to come to a city like New York.

Weller: As a young, gay man, he didn't feel comfortable where he was.

Daly: Andre wasn't gay when he came to New York.

[ Laughter ] We'd been talking about the condition of becoming invisible, especially for women, as you age.

She sees how bereft she is of connection.

She's beginning to realize how she's made herself alone.

Terrence: 'Mothers and Sons' was very much me trying to understand my mother, my kind of telling my mother who I am and she had to sort of listen as opposed to change the subject.

Weller: [Bleep] Christ, woman. Reach out to someone.

Let someone in.

Daly: There's so much I want to say that's not about Andre.

It's about me and no one else, me, as if I were the only person on the planet, which is how I felt all my life.

There were other people, a mother, a father, a husband -- didn't matter.

I was still alone, and then there was Andre, and I thought everything would be fine.

He was going to fix it.

He didn't even come close.

Terrence: My work never gave me pleasure before, only in the past couple of years.

During the run of 'Mothers and Sons,' I just was going up 8th Avenue, and I saw the marquee, and I just like, 'Wow, that's me.

That's my life up there.'

And it's not over, but I let it in.

That's the day I said, 'I am a playwright. I've done this.'

Whereas before, I don't know.

It was like, 'Thanks for the use of the hall,' you know?

'Turn off the lights when you're done.'

I always felt like a visitor, and I suddenly felt like a part of the American theater.

It was a great feeling.

[ Cheers and applause ] ♪♪ Theater is collaborative, but life is collaborative.

We need that spirit, more than ever, in these days ahead.

I'm always startled when I'm asked why I chose to write about AIDs.

There was no choice.

An artist responds to their world and tries to make sense of it, even the bad things.

What else was I going to write about, the weather?

I am thankful for the men and women who took to the streets and made our voices heard.

They made a difference.

But I am also grateful to the artists who tried to make sense of the terror and confusion.

We also made a difference.

I am bewildered and more than a little angry by the artists who did nothing but fiddle while their own, this great city, burned.

I lost two partners to AIDs.

I walk for Gary Bonasorte today.

I walk for Bobby Dreyfuss.

I walk for all the men and women who never had the opportunity of life not cut unreasonably short, so many possibilities denied.

I walk in remembrance.

I walk in love.

♪♪ Someone told me the average age expectancy now is 80-something.

How many of those moments do you live with such intensity?

Half of our life, we're getting cabs or washing the dishes or picking up the dry-cleaning or not noticing the person sitting next to us.

The arts are an attempt to hold in our hands what is -- It's hard to hold lightning, sand, water, those moments that are full and right and true and just life.

I want more of these moments.

♪♪ 'If I have seemed harsh, it is because I have been harsh with myself.

I'm not good with words, but I have tried to reach you.

Porter: 'To communicate something of what I feel, about what we do as artists, as musicians, and as human beings.'

Abraham: 'The sun will not fall down from the sky if there are no more 'Traviata's.'

Moreno: 'The world can and will go on without us.'

Heald: '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.'

Lansbury: 'The older I get, the less I know, but I'm certain that what we do matters.'

Hickey: 'If I didn't believe that, you must know what you want to do in life.

You must decide, for we cannot do everything.'

Rivera: 'Do not think singing is an easy career.

It is a lifetime's work. It does not stop here.'

Mazzie: 'Whether I continue singing or not doesn't matter.

Besides, it's all there in the recordings.'

Falco: 'What matters is that you use whatever you have learned wisely.'

Stock: 'Think of the expression of the words, of good diction, and of your own deep feelings.'

Mantello: 'The only thanks I ask is that you sing properly and honestly.

If you do this, then I will be repaid.'

Terrence: 'Well, that's that.

She gathers her things and goes.

Blackout. The end.'

behold an American maestro -- Robert Shaw.

With no formal training, he became the greatest conductor of choral music ever.

-Robert Shaw was hot.

-Sort of a rock star.

-Whatever the magic was, they all wanted a piece of it.

-He believed the arts were able to heal racial wounds.

-He was totally in charge and totally dynamic.

-♪ Hallelujah -Singing a piece like this changes lives.

-Look for the legendary 'Robert Shaw: Man of Many Voices' next time on 'American Masters.'

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪


URL: https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/terrence-mcnally-every-act-of-life-full-film/11539/
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