Every Act of Life (2018) - full transcript

The life of Tony-winning playwright Terrence McNally (Master Class, Ragtime): 60 years of groundbreaking plays and musicals, the struggle for LGBT rights, addiction and recovery, finding true love, and the relentless pursuit of inspiration.

I love the theater.

It reinvents itself
every night.

I still get very excited.

When the curtain goes out,
what a great adventure.

WOMAN: Well, thank you a lot
and good evening.

The half century
of Tony's has seen

on the Broadway stage,

the work of
the 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.

CHRISTINE: He's gone through
so many ups and downs,

he has had wild success,

but he has also had
huge disappointments.

Shattering disappointments,

but he's still writing.

I think that's
a test of character.

Thank you.

Terrence is able
to get to the core
of the human condition

in so many different ways.

This isn't just an opera,
this is your life.

I'll see...

AUDRA: Well,
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.

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 Me
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!

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 on stage.

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 port of Corpus Christi,

the naval air station.

My mom was not a happy woman.

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

My father
was a beer distributor

for the Schlitz
brewing company.

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 six o'clock

and 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.

I remember one night

he literally chased me

through at least six, seven
backyards of our neighbors,

and people were sitting out
on their patios having dinner,

and there's this guy
chasing his son.

And then when he got me,

he really, really hit me.

My dad was a little bit

in denial that he wasn't out
playing football

and doing the other things
that other kids did.

Here's a teenager
producing operas
in our garage,

friends would build sets,

we had neighbors
come by the house, they said,
"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, Guys and Dolls.

So, I knew what theater was
because of my parents.

I'm not gonna dedicate this
to my mother,

but I'm gonna dedicate it
to my high school
English teacher,

Maureen McIlroy.

And I grew up
in a really shitty town.

And they know I feel
that way about it, so...

I cannot imagine
my life without
Mrs. McIlroy.

She's the first person
I met who got me.

Um, 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 had ever met.

WOMAN: "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

and your 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 heart-breaking,

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 have chosen.

Mrs. McIlroy.


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 a Dorothy Parker Suite

at the Algonquin Hotel.

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.

I'm done, finished.
You got it.

Where did you pick up
an expression like that?

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

You know, the first time
you said it tonight,

I practically told you
I had a headache
and had to go home.

You see,
that's so scary to me.

That three little words,

"Pardon my French,"

could separate two people
from saying
the three little words

that make them connect.

What three little words?

I love you.

TERRENCE: And then at
the opening night, she was
the toast to the party.

It was the best thank you
I think I've ever given
to another person.

A gay guy in the '50s
in South Texas,

would be... He'd be very much
in the closet,

and when people
found out he way gay,

they'd beat
the shit out of him.

No question about that.

TERRENCE: Growing up
in South Texas,

I've 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 3D movie.

And then afterwards,
we went to this cave

and we're having sex
and the, uh,

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 thinking...
We both thought,

"Boy, if we had 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,

ususally 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,
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 gonna write
the Varsity Show.

They paired me with Ed Kleban

who wrote chorus line.

And I remember thinking,
"This is kinda fun!"

I left Columbia
educated, but fearful.

And I'd like to have
left feeling

educated and confident.

It's an interesting thing
about fear.

Fear is the major ingredient
to creativity.

I think
it kick-starts everything.

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 guess, just...

It wasn't good.

I knew what I wanted to do,

but I didn't sort of admit it
to myself.

It's kind of a presumptuous,
almost saying,

"I'm gonna be a playwright,
I'm gonna work in the theater."

Edward Albee said

the first time he laid eyes
on Terrence McNally,

he saw the most beautiful face
he had 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.

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 spontaneously,

"You sure your wife
or family won't mind?"

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,

we were just drunk
all the time.

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

And lot of sex.

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

He's the first really
distinctive voice

since Tennessee Williams.

We're very proud to welcome

the most talked about

playwright in America.

Mr. Edward Albee.

TERRENCE: Edward had
a lot invested in

not being out and

you know, my first play,
I was reviewed as a gay man.

There seems to be
an underlining...

theme in your plays,

uh, concerned with marriage.

Am I right?

Yes, some people
have said that.

You know,
it's one of the things

that seem to concern,
uh, the majority of people,

almost everybody who counts
as married except few people.

Well, some people
are happy with it.

Some people are unhappy
with it.

What do you think of it?

Uh, I'm single.

--I like it. I think
it's fine.

Those times were 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.

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?"

And she said,
"It is 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 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 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
they can make of themselves.

And that was
very inspiring to me.

John said, "Let me give you
one piece of advice
if you wanna be a writer."

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

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

It will break your heart.

My first play has all passages
that are very Albee influence.

I said, "Everyone was writing
plays at that time."

Speaking in your own voice,

realizing who you are,

is a complicated process.

PAUL: 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 know it,
people start 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.

- I thought, "This is...
- not a good way

to begin my life
in the theater."

MAN: "Dear Ter,
my heart is sick today.

There's no reason
to anticipate or to expect
fairness from critics.

But I don't think
they have the right
of malicious mischief.

Your play is false of course.

So is 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 road.'

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

Yours John."

Edward was very supportive
of 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

'cause we had a very unhappy,

angry, bitter break-up.

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

Not amused.

This is...
that old...

I don't wanna see it.
I don't wanna see it.

I loved it.

-Who's that from?

It's a Richard Avedon photo,

when Things That
Go Bump in the Night

Look how young you look.


It's adorable.

I sort of love,
but hate this picture

and you'll know why.

-'Cause I'm smoking.

Well, that was my apartment.

Look what you got
for $45.

-And it evokes so much.

-It's just...

What we know now.

And this is outside
the Cherry Lane theater.

Yeah, I love this photo.

TERRENCE: A long time ago.

It's all a lot
of young playwrights.

That's Israel Horovitz,
Leonard Melfi, Jules Feiffer,

Robert Patrick,

me, Jack Larson
and Lanford Wilson.

- I think I'm next to you.
-Look at my hair.


All gone.

TERRENCE: My second partner
was also

a huge drinker,
Robert Drivas, the actor.

It's really odd...

Edward had been kind of

inscrutable person,

but Bobby was
quite the opposite.

Every feeling he had
was on the table.

I don't give up that easily.

That's right you don't.

Like you,
I'd have made it work or
smashed it.

I stopped smashing things
a long time ago.

very alcoholic relationship,

very tempestuous.

We lived on Bleecker
and Tenth Street

and we had fights
you could've heard
on 42nd street.

Bobby was a beautiful,

physically beautiful man
and very bright

and a lot of fun.

Completely charming.

And usually got his way.

TERRENCE: The biggest tension
always in our relationship

is that Bobby
did not wanna 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 gonna corrode
their souls, their hearts.

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.

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 about
16 flights of steps.

WOMAN: Whoa.

-I get to flirt
with you all day.
-Yeah, yeah.

- I was looking forward to it.

MICAH STOCK: 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 wanna live
more fully.

And they wanna live
more truthfully.

And they wanna live
more joyfully.

It changed the way
I go about the world.

Okay, so this is a very cold

reading of Noon
by Terrence McNally.

He wrote this in 1968.

BILLY: What I found interesting
was it transported me

to a time, you know, where

Terrence is really

-SHERYL: Yeah.
-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.
-SHERYL: With no shame.

With no shame!

SHERYL: 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."

"You can't get
your pants off
with you shoes on, dummy."

"I don't want my pants off."

"For Chrissake.

Just wanna see you
in your shorts."

"I know, but..."

-"Guys are guys."

BILLY: The sexuality of Noon,

like, naughtiness of it,
it was really sort of pushing

norms and ideologies

to the breaking point.

-"What do you do?"
-"I'm a writer."

- "Figures."

"What else do you do?"

"What else?"

"God, you're exasperating.

In bed.

What do you do in bed?"

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 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,
and 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.

used to complain and say,

"I'll never be a star.

I'll just be a character actor

and maybe one day
I do Death of a Salesman

in a regional theater
and that'll 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.

I learned so much

working with Elaine
'cause I learned nothing
from my first play.

I wanted the audience
to understand my characters.

They might be troubled
by them.

Wanna think about them
a little longer.

But if the audience says,
"I just don't get it",

I feel I have failed.

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 pointman, no agent,

no audition."

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 gonna stay and wait."

MURRAY: I was there
for hours and hours.

No big deal.
It was important.

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

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."

The guy finally comes out
and he says,

"All right, 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."

There's a sense of competition

and a little bit of a gladiator

in all the great actors.
I think.

These actors bring
a humanity, a life,

a joy, a mystery,

so much stuff that's not
on those flat pages.

I'm not deprecating
or minimizing my own work,

but theater, is to me,

It's hearing music
you never dreamed of.

Terrence wrote Bad Habits
for me

and I'm eternally grateful

because he gave me a career.

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 Manhattan Theater Club

and the set was
Samsonite folding chairs,

the lighting cues were
overhead fluorescent lights

which I personally operated.

That play went really well.

Me moved it to Off-Broadway.

That same production
with those same eight actors

moved to Broadway
to the Booth Theater.

It all happened within a year.

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

NARRATOR: Now let's start
at the beginning

and I'll try to keep it
in layman's terms.

Everything in life
is bad for you.

The air, the sun,
the force of gravity,

butter, eggs, the cigarette.

Right now, this very moment,

as I speak these words,

you're ten 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've painted it
in much different color."

There were times he did
acknowledge my work.

I also was made to feel

I wasn't good enough,
I didn't measure up.

And then you finally
figure out,

"Wait, I've gotta be who I am.

Not letting other people decide

what a good play
or a good son is."

Did you get yourself something?

I just got a little salad

'cause I'm not
doing bread, right?

-'Cause you're fat.
I know.
-I'm fat, so...

who I consider my best friend,

he said my parents were
a little frightened of me.

When did you tell her
that you were gay?

-Did you have that conversation?
-Not really, no.

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

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 same bed together.
-DON: How was he?

-DON: How did he take it?

"Just stay in New York
with your, you know..."

-DON: Your lifestyle.

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

There's a difference between
not knowing it

and not wanting you
to know it.


So... There are several
straight men

-who don't know
they're really gay.

Starting with my father,
you were gonna suggest that.

Yes, so I've always
wondered about him.

TERRENCE: The need,
the passion to connect

was everything.

You could say
all theater people
were building

surrogate families.

If I had a wish,

it would be that
I was a part of a company

and all we did was
put on plays.

None of us wanted
to make movies,

none of us want
to star in television series,

none of us want
to be in shows
by anybody else.

This was our company.

We were the, you know,
the Globe Theater.

Terrence can get
very, very hurt,

uh, by actors
not being faithful.

He gets huge crushes
on actors,

who have their own agendas
and schedules

and commitments.

He's intense. He's not unlike
some of these characters.

Of course,
I would've been wonderful

in a part that 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.

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.

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.

LYNN AHERNS: He writes exactly
what he wants on the page,

and will stand up for it.

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.

Fucking weatherman.

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.

Someone already has.

Eh, beginner's luck.

The Ritz was pretty shocking.

Really, and...

I think that everybody
who saw it

was sort of taken aback.

RITA: 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.

And the winner...

RITA: When we got to New York,
everybody loved it.

...is Rita Moreno
of The Ritz.

RITA: Getting the Tony
was the thrill of my life.

Thank you.


TERRENCE: I've 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 premiere
or a business situation.

Bobby wanted to be successful

more than he wanted anything.

And I wanted to be in love

more than I want to be
a successful playwright.

I want to be
in a good relationship.

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.

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: We sort of
got together right away

and then he ended up
coming to New York.

And I'm talking about kindness,

I mean, every penny
of my tuition...

I went to Columbia.
Got my Masters in Columbia.

Terrence paid for it.

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,
"Do 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 quarter Scotch a day.

When I met him in 1982,

he kind of run out of steam.

Run out of friends
in New York,

I think we were upset
with him about his drinking,

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?"

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 saw, here's this
brilliant, beautiful
young man...

His life is just going to
go 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."

She was so gentle
and loving about it,

as opposed to Lauren Bacall
who was angry,

and I'm gonna send you
the bill from the dry cleaner.

It 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."

I told him I love him
and I can't

not be with him.
I have to be with him.

I was shocked.

I was angry.

I felt stupid.

I felt really stupid.

How could I have
not been aware

of the person
you're sleeping with
every night

that they're in love
with someone else?

DON: Terrence was broke.

He had just
broken up with Dominic.

He was very newly sober

and he had kinda 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 kinda 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 is 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 with Frankie and Johnny
I wanted to make 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 gonna spend
the weekend alone

in their apartment

eating junk food,
watching ten 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 gonna be
able to write sober?

"I wanna kill myself sometimes

"when I think that
I'm the only person
in the world.

"And that part of me
that feels 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."

It's like, you know,
the plant that

insists on finding the light

through the cracks
in the side walk, you know.

People will search
for that connection.

You still want a sandwich
before you go?

Yeah, I still want a sandwich.

Then you're going.
You're not staying over.

Well, we'll cross that bridge
when we get there.

There is no bridge to cross.

What are you scared of?

I'm not scared.

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

Well, not like
in a horror movie.

I think you're gonna
pull out a knife
and stab me

if that's what
you're talking about.

-Can we change the subject?
-What do you mean?

Come on, you're gonna
stand there and tell me
that you're not weird?

Of course, I'm weird.

There's whole another side
of you I never saw before.

Well, what did you think?
All I ever did was cook?

There's a whole other side
of you I never saw
you doing it either.

Well, that's because
it's probably your
first time with

a passionate
and imaginative lover.

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

I know, to think
that we both sat

and memorized these lines
we worked on

and then dealt with blocking
and had opening nights in,
you know...

Of the same stuff.

Two very different people,
different times in our lives,

and you know,
different productions.

It's all Terrence.

-Did you ever feel like...
-He got it for me.

Did you think you were
attractive growing up?

-I never thought I was

No feeling like it.

-Kinda like the outsider
and not quite knowing it.
-Oh, yeah.

How to connect
and all that stuff.

Yeah, what a drag,
and what a nice
discovery later

-to find that
I'm terrifically attractive.

Yes, absolutely.
I'm working on that.

-Better late than never.
-Oh, my God.

-How do you feel about
taking your clothes off?

Was that the first time
you did it?

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.

He really... He can write.


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.

They let us see
into their hearts.

In 1985,

Bobby Drivas came to my house
and he looked very ill.

He was very thin
and very, very weak.

It wasn't like
he turned the page
and said, "AIDS."

There wasn't that
defining moment,

a 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

'cause they're so ashamed
of having AIDS or being gay.

That made me more militant
than ever about being out.

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


I love you.

My first show on Broadway
was in 1958.

I was seven.

I counted on Terrence
when they needed kids
at the Actors Studio.

I've always characterized
Terrence's characters

as intensely vulnerable,

but fierce
in their appetites,

in their expression
of their needs,

and their angers,

their feelings,
their prejudices.

I think Andre prefers
keeping me in the dark.

I doubt that.

He never tells me
anything important.

Do you ever ask him
anything important?

I won't get a straight answer
if I did.


Why don't you try him?

Maybe there's some things
I'd just as soon not know.

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 kinda sequestered
or cloistered

because she didn't want
her friends to realize
that he might be a gay man.

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 a peer.

I still try and remember
that lesson to this day.

A lot of theater people
are lazy.

They don't go to enough plays.

They don't know
who the new talents...

talent is.

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

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.

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 after,

even after all these years,

it's not hard to find
nice things to say
about Terrence McNally.

He's a brilliant writer

and a wonderful man.


Yes, he's nice.

But he's not that nice.

I'm not gonna pull any punches.

He has done hard time
in the slammer.

he has killed people.

When I wrote this shit,

I didn't know what it would be
for the opera society.

Terrence and I met around 1987

at Manhattan Theater Club.

They were doing
Frankie and Johnny
in a 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."

Remember I saw you
in the lobby of the theater?

That's right.

-And you were upset
with a play you were in?

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 I was like, "No, go on."

And you read
the entire phone call
which was, what,

fifteen-minute tour de force.

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

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.

NATHAN: It was
incredibly witty and brave

you know, like Beckett.

It's funny and suddenly,
life is not so funny.

There was one performance
when suddenly, a woman

stood up and shouted
from the balcony,

"Where's the plot?

I want some plot!"

And stormed out of the theater.

And Nathan said,
"Well, Stick around and you'll

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?"

'Cause of course it had to be
a show of naked.

And I said, "Yeah, sure."

-You made your debut
in New York stark naked.
-In New York City.

-Great lines. Great jokes.
-You were so wonderful in it

and you weren't just
eye candy in the play
by any means, you know.

You're kind of the hero,
I mean, there's another way
of living.

-Yeah. Uncomplicated.
-You and Mike represented...

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,

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 the morning,

sweating, he begins
writing the 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
a playwright in residence.

And I thought she was
a very funny, talented 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
I 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."

I had seen...

the cost of being gay
in the '80s

and I was, like, suspicious.

"Oh, you just not
wanna 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 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 was just a shock
to people.

It happens not only
when she was young,

but it happened so suddenly.

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

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.

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.

I periodically called
Manhattan Theater clients,

"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."

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 re-writes.

At one point, Tony threw
the script across the room.

And said,
"This will never work!"

It was 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 had to say.
Thank you so much."

And I'll never forget that
as long as I live.

And it's like,
he just went home and boom!

It sprang out of his head.

Right on to the paper.

NATHAN: 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,
fuck the truth."

The truth has hurt more people
than all the lies

that were ever told.

JOHN KANDER: The idea of
telling stories by singing,

I think that's something
Terrence and I shared
from when we met each other.

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.

She does it just like
temporary commercial.

My new musical film Rink.

It's a story of a mother.

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

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

-With sets and singing.
-Costumes and skating.

- And lots of...

I'm waiting
for my other...

The rink was
an extraordinary experience
for me.

I remember seeing Terrence
in the back of the room,

on his typewriter,
diligently changing things.

That's how the show
becomes what it is.

The words, the music,
the steps.

All the pieces have to fit.

I think The Rink is
one of the best pieces,

one of the best things
that we ever wrote.

CHITA: We loved the show.

We loved doing it
every night.

The audiences loved it.

The critics said
it was pretty startling.

Terrible things.

JOHN: Our reaction
to the critics
was bewildering.


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

We're so obsessed with hits

'cause no one likes a hit
more than me.

But they don't happen
that often. It's rare.

I think our defense
is just doing the very best
we can.

And doing the piece
we really love.

And screw it, otherwise.

What are you
gonna do?

So close your eyes
And you can become a star

Why must you stay

Where you are

Freddie and John
called me about
Kiss of the Spider Woman.

Boy, what a phenomenal show.

It was written so

The nicest thing
about being happyy,

you think you'll
never be unhappyy...


If there was a musical moment,

Terrence would usually
write it in prose.

The most gorgeous prose
you 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

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.

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 had 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?

WOMAN: I am a god.
My name is Ganesha.

I'm also called Vigneshwara.

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'm a good god.

Cheerful, giving,
often smiling,

seldom sad.

I am everywhere.

I'm in your mind,

in the thoughts you think,
in your heart.

whether full
or broken, in your face,

and in the very air
you breathe.


C'est moi, Ganesha.


Yo soy, Ganesha . Ich bin.

Io sono, toujours, 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

towards 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 Bates.

directed by Joe Mantello.

And 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.

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.

I think you've come to look
more and more

like each other over the years.

You haven't known us that long.

Oh, it's not what he's saying.

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 asked
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
I always drive,

I think this is how
you go through life.

When I first read
Love! Valor! Compassion!

I knew that Terrence
had gone to now

a completely new level.

But I believed in the play
from the beginning.

But I knew that
we needed a strong
director to corral it.

Terrence changed my life

in so many profound ways.

I had been watching his work
for a couple of years

at the Director's Lab
at Circle Rep.

And I kept being impressed
by the work

of this young guy
called Joe Mantello.

JOE: There were
a lot of other directors

that they were meeting with,
who had a lot more

and would have been a safer,

probably wiser choice.

So I sorta 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.

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

He made it a condition

of the sale of the play
Love! Valor!

that I direct the film.

He gave me my first musical.

Terrence sort of makes me weep

'cause he's got that thing
that goes into you.

That comes from his soul

and kinda goes into yours.
It's very...


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.

But never, ever, not once

being loved.

The word was out

that Terrence had written
this beautiful play.

This big play about

gay guys, friendship,
family, love, loss.

I hadn't worked much
in New York.

I'd maybe had done
a couple of
off-Broadway plays.

And in some ways,
I was scared

at admitting to myself

how badly I wanted
to get that part.

John Glover,
the wonderful actor,

has been in a lot of my plays.

Used to call that period
in the spring "Love, Valor,

When I read the script of
Love! Valor! Compassion!

I don't remember
how many pages it was,

I just remember
it was like this thick.

It was a real puzzle
to figure out.

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.

NATHAN: At one point,
a week or so

before we were
about to go into the theater,

Terrence said, "I feel
something is missing

for your character
in the third act."

I said, "Maybe it's
nothing more than...

Life isn't like
a musical comedy."

There's no guaranteed
happy ending.

He said, "Okay."
And then he went away.

And then Joe called me
one morning and said,

"Well, he has written
this scene
that's extraordinary."

And it just knocked
our socks off.

And I remember Nathan
like it was yesterday,

the first time he read it,

he killed it.

Musicals don't all
have happy endings

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.

It's a happy ending, Perry.

Once, just once,

I wanna see a Westside Story

where Tony really gets it.

Where they all die,
the Sharks and the Jets

and Maria,

while we're at it,

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 The King and I
where Yul Brynner,

doesn't get up
from that little Siamese bed

for a curtain call.

I wanna see a Sound of Music,

where the entire Von Trapp
family dies...

...in an authentic
Alpine avalanche.

A Kiss Me, Kate

where she's got a big
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 my runway.

It's side-splittingly funny.

It's angry
and it's devastatingly sad.

All at the same time.

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,
"How you could

put me up on the stage
like that?"

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.

And then 30 years later,
I was teaching
play writing in Juilliard

and I saw a sign that said
Master Class
Lantin Prize, 4:00 p.m."

I thought that's
gonna 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.

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

Confronting the hurricane
that is Zoe Caldwell,
on stage, that's a force.

And you either get up there
and you know,

become a hurricane yourself
or you get blown off the stage.

You all think you're so special.

You're a dime a dozen.

There are hundreds...
No, thousands of you
out there.

Auditioning, standing,

going here, there,
hither and yon.

You expect people
to remember you

if you don't have a look?

I was never arrogant that way.

I knew I needed a look.

And I got one.

You... Yes, you.

And don't take this

You don't have a look.

You look very nice.
I'm sure you are.

You look very clean,
very comme il faut

but you don't have a look.

Get one.

As quickly as possible.

It's much easier than
practicing your scales.

I first heard of 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 Julliard

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,
"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 kinda
disarmed me in a way,

put me completely at ease.

Do you believe women
can have balls, Sharon?

Yes, I do.

Verdi is daring you
to show us yours.

Will you do it?


I was very excited
to go see Master Class revival
in 2011

and Zoe Caldwell and I
went on a date.

And Tyne was spectacular
in the role.

So, what are you
doing out here?

Go away. We don't want
to see you yet.

You want me to go off
and come back out?

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.

So many yummy things...
to act.

AHERNS: Almost two
decades later,

I find myself amazed

everytime 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.

What was so beautiful
about Ragtime is,

you know, it's also
attributed to Terrence's work.

Let me pass.

That'll be $25.

AUDRA: It's just
making everybody

look at how different we are,

but at the same time
we are all so similar.

MARIN: 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.

Marin has one of the most
exquisite voices ever,

and she's fearless.

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

That was the moment
when she finally
stood her ground,

became a woman
who was stepping
into the 20th century.

STEPHEN: 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."

AHERNS: Terrence said,
"I wrote something."

Then he handed me
a Manila envelope,

he said, "Don't read it now,
just take it with you."

And I got in a 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.

I 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."

JOE: 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.

It was really like
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.

Have you thought about your
memorial I think about mine.

LARRY: I got too much work
to do before I die.

Good for you.

I shouldn't waste my time
planning mine.

I most remember

how excited I was
when I saw

The Normal Heart
'cause there
ever wasn't anything

in my lifetime
quite like that

theatrical event
of a play

that made people
wanna jump
out of their seat

and run

and do something active
about a horrible situation.

And you know, it had
the most electrifying...

I've never seen
that kind of
cause and effect.

Well, you're always,
in my mind,

an amazing person
because, as I said earlier,

you were so productive,
and I wasn't
as a playwright.

And I admire that you...

worked so hard and so much

-and that you wrote
about gay stuff...

...when so few people did.

And more successful with it.

And you also dealt
with the politics
of Corpus Christi

and you have a record
to be proud of.

You know you gotta
do something with your life.

-Time is short.

Matter. Do something.

Act, you know.
Stand up for something.

In a lot of ways,
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 Theater Club

was just seminal to our growth,
to his growth.

Very early on,
we got a group
of great actors

and did a reading
at Manhattan Theater Club.

All of a sudden,
this earnest little play

was thrust into the spotlight.

The incredible hysteria

when Corpus Christi
was first performed,

was kind of an early symptom
of what would come later.

in the fight
for marriage equality.

And God saw everything
that he made,

and behold, it was very good.

I enclose scriptures
of the next man.

God loves us most

when we love each other.

We accept you
and we bless you.

Now, who's got a ring?

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,

they got death threats.

You have to be brave
to write a play

of spiritual substance.

You know,
it's a dangerous thing.

Manhattan Theater Club
undertook to do

the Corpus Christi.

And then they abandoned it

because of pressure?

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: MT states,
"We're gonna have
to cancel this."

And I said,
"Well, before you do,

I think you should think
long and hard."

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,
that moment in my life,

it's one of my...
Things I most treasure.

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.

They may not be young,
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.

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 dialog

just simply flow together.

And by God, we did.

PATRICK: I was in
a prep school, and the
first play that I did was Next

by 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
on a Gershwin review

and I thought, "This guy
is really great

and we're casting Full Monty."

David Yazbek
wrote a brilliant score.

Now we had a wonderful
perfect cast.

The characters in Full Monty,
to me, represent everybody

who has got some gumption
and wants to better themselves.

And I just loved writing
these six men.

This show was as much about

life and love and not taking
anybody for granted

as any show
I've ever been a part of.

Who are you calling a loser?

You're my father.

Almost a great father.

Said you needed a killing.

This is it. Everyone we know
is out there.

You think I'm a great father?

I said almost.

I love you, you big fuck.

When you think about Terrence,

what's the category
that leaps to mind?

Let it go

Musical librettist?

Gay historian?

Comic writer?


Bring it on.

MAN: Come on, Maestro,
what are we eating today?

TERRENCE: I don't know.

Look at the pattern on these.
It's so beautiful.

I'd buy a shirt
with that pattern.

-I would.
-I know you would.

What flowers do you like?

TERRENCE: Not many people
will fess up to love
at first sight,

but I will and I believe in it.

It was a Sunday afternoon

in June of 2001.

I put together
an afternoon panel

called "Theater
from a gay perspective."

I thought, "Another pane
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.

It is so exciting
for me to be a part
of a panel discussion

with these three distinguished
playwrights tonight.

KIRDAHY: We have 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.

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: That was
an instant connection.

KIRDAHY: Our days together
were incredible.

By Thanksgiving, it was clear
that we were 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 that it's unfair

not to share that information
with you."

TERRENCE: I expected him to say
give me a ring
when you get better.

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

and there was enormous fear
that he wasn't gonna make it.

" 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.

None more virulent,
more horrendous

or agonizing.

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

KIRDAHY: Terrence now has

a quarter of a lung
on one side

and 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 had experienced a rebirth.

There were new plays
on Broadway and off.

Musicals, operas.

And I was so thrilled
to be by his side.

We're gathered here today

to witness reaffirming
of marriage vows

of Terrence McNally
and Tom 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.


Being happily married to Tom

has really made me
trusting of life
in a way

that there wasn't before.

I've had some terrific

but this is the one
that really matters the most.

By the powers vested in me
by the State of New York,

I re-pronounce you married,

and you may seal
your vows with a kiss.

TERRENCE: When people say,
"When are you gonna retire?"

I sort of wanna hit them.

I've got about three plays
that I wanna 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

has motivated me
and kept me going 78 years.

SHERYL: Mothers and Sons
is about forgiveness.

And even if we can't forgive,

we have to move forward.

He was barely 18
when he left Texas.

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

As a young gay man,

he didn't feel comfortable
where he was.

Andrey wasn't gay
when he came to New York.

We've been talking
about the condition
of being invisible.

Especially for women
as you age.

She sees how bereft
she is of connection.

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

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.

Jesus Christ, woman,
reach out to someone.

Let someone in.

There's so much
I wanna 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 that everything
would be fine.

He was gonna fix it.

He didn't even
come close.

My work never gave me
pleasure before.

Only in the past
couple of years.

During the run
of Mothers and Sons,

I was just going
up on Fifth Avenue

and I saw the marquee
and I was 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."

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.

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'm thankful
for the men and women

who took to the streets
and made our voices heard.

They made a difference.

But I'm also grateful
to the artists

who tried to make sense
of the terror and confusion.

We also made a difference.

I'm bewildered
and more than a little angry

by the artists who did nothing
but fiddle.

While they roamed,
this great city burned.

I lost two partners to AIDS,

I walk for
Gary Bonasorte today.

I walk for Bobby Drivas.

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...

It's hard to hold lightning,
sand or a border.

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've been
harsh with myself.

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

"To communicate something
of what I feel

"about what we do as artists,

"as musicians,

"and as human beings."

"The sun will not fall
from the sky.

"There are no more traviatas."

"The world can
and will go on without us."

"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."

"The older that I get,

"the less I know.

"But I'm certain that
what we do matters."

"If I didn't believe that...

"You must know what
you want to do in life.

"You must decide
for we cannot do everything."

"Do not think singing
is an easy career.

"It is a lifetime's work.

"It does not stop here."

"Whether I continue
singing or not doesn't matter.

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

"What matters is that
you use whatever
you have learned wisely."

"Think of the expression
of words,

of good diction,
and of your own
deep feelings."

"The only thanks I ask
is that you sing properly

"and honestly.

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

"Well, that's that.

"She gathers her things
and goes.

"Black out. The end."