Terrence McNally Hub




Straight Couples Adrift on Fire Island in Terrence McNally’s ‘Lips Together, Teeth Apart’: REVIEW

Lips

BY NAVEEN KUMAR

Fire Island lovers already nostalgic for summer will find themselves immediately transported upon entering Off Broadway’s Second Stage Theatre, where a revival of Terrence McNally’s 1991 play set in the idyllic Pines opened last night. The oceanfront deck (complete with infinity pool) is so lovingly rendered by designer Alexander Dodge, you can practically smell the sea-salt air and feel the cool relief of a cocktail against your lips. But don’t get too comfortable: The dream home’s occupants on this Fourth of July weekend are none too keen on the locals.

Lips3Sally (America Ferrera), a stymied artist with a 9-to-5, inherited the house from her brother, who recently died of AIDS. She and her staunchly salt-of-the-earth husband, Sam (Michael Chernus), are taking a holiday weekend away from their modest life in New Jersey to decide what to do with the property. Along for the stay are Sam’s moderately hyperactive sister Chloe (Tracee Chimo), a community theatre actress, and her husband John (Austin Lysy), a private school admissions director, who live a bit less modestly in Connecticut.

As they enjoy typical, leisurely distractions (the Times’ crossword, landscape painting, kite-flying, charades), audience-directed asides clue us into their inner conflicts and secrets. Sally is pregnant and fears another miscarriage; John has cancer; Sally and John once slept together; Chloe has an almost maniacal need to feel useful and Sam is, well, pretty much an open book. A dark cloud rolls in at the play’s outset, as Sally spots a man swimming purposefully straight out into the ocean. She has a sinking feeling he won’t return.

Lips2Neighbored on all sides by gay men, a group they neither understand nor accept, these are strangers in a strange but picture-perfect place. But it’s their isolation from each other, rather than their surroundings, that takes up McNally’s three-act story. Its focus on intimate drama allows the play’s subtler reflections on deeply rooted homophobia and AIDS panic to resonate all the more profoundly. The characters’ fear of mortality and desire to be known and loved parallel those of their gay neighbors, but most of them are too blind to see it—except for Sally, who wants so badly to try.

Director Peter Dubois does fine work bringing the play to a modern audience and orchestrating its talented cast. Chimoo is a standout as nutty, gabby Chloe, preening fearlessly like an exotic show bird confined to mundane, everyday life. As her younger brother, Chernus is a perfect fit, endearing us to Sam’s unassuming bluntness and rough edges, thus making his casual bigotry that much more bracing and uncomfortable. Lysy is likewise well suited to buttoned-up John, whose range of bottled feelings finds sly and often sudden outlets. As sullen, probing Sally, Ferrera brings a sweet earnestness that at times only skims the surface of Sally’s well of emotions rather than reaching for its depths.

Lips1For a play set on Fire Island during the AIDS crisis, McNally’s play is remarkably subtle (The Normal Heart it is not), and Dubois’ production lovingly embraces its characters, despite their flaws. Their narrow-minded anxieties may have sounded closer to ordinary in the early 90s, but now they take on a certain shocking sting, particularly for a New York audience. It’s a testament to how far we’ve traveled in 25 years. That they’re not altogether unfamiliar is a mark of how far we still have to go.

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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos: joan marcus)


WATCH: Trailer for New Documentary On Controversial Gay Jesus Play 'Corpus Christi'

Jesus

"Corpus Christi," Terrence McNally's 1998 play about a gay Jesus Christ, holds a special place in gay theater history not only for its subject matter but for the protests and religious right outrage that the play sparked (and continues to spark) across the country.

A documentary by the same debuted at film festivals a few years back and is now getting a wider home release so that audiences everywhere can get an inside look at how the public controversy affected those who were involved in the play's production. 

Check out the newly released first trailer, AFTER THE JUMP...

Protest

Continue reading "WATCH: Trailer for New Documentary On Controversial Gay Jesus Play 'Corpus Christi'" »


Tyne Daly Performs A Scene From Terrence McNally’s Gay Broadway Drama ‘Mothers And Sons’: VIDEO

Tyne

Coming on the heels of her Tony Nomination for her performance in Terrence McNally’s new AIDS memory play, “Mothers and Sons,” actress Tyne Daly has offered up a performance of a scene from the play for The New York Times

The play, which first debuted last June at The Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Pennsylvania, is now on Broadway at the Golden Theatre and nominated for two Tonys—one for Ms. Daly and one for the play itself. As our own Naveen Kumar put it, the play “offers a present snapshot of lives affected by the height of the AIDS crisis—a mother who lost her son in his prime, and the lover who survived him to eventually start his own family.”  

Watch Daly display her dramatic chops, AFTER THE JUMP…

In case you missed it, check out Naveen’s review of "Mothers and Sons" HERE

Continue reading "Tyne Daly Performs A Scene From Terrence McNally’s Gay Broadway Drama ‘Mothers And Sons’: VIDEO" »


Terrence McNally’s ‘Mothers and Sons’ Starring Tyne Daly Opens On Broadway: REVIEW

MS_Bobby_Steggert_and_Frederick_Weller_in_a_scene_from_Terrence_McNallys_MOTHERS_AND_SONS_on_Broadway_(Photo_by_Joan_Marcus)

BY NAVEEN KUMAR

In his new play Mothers and Sons, which opened on Broadway March 24 at the Golden Theatre, Terrence McNally offers a present snapshot of lives affected by the height of the AIDS crisis—a mother who lost her son in his prime, and the lover who survived him to eventually start his own family. While voicing a crucial chapter in LGBT history that bears repeating, the play feels more like a set of talking points about affluent gay male experience than a well-crafted drama.

MS_Frederick_Weller_and_Tyne_Daly_in_a_scene_from_Terrence_McNallys_MOTHERS_AND_SONS_on_Broadway_(Photo_by_Joan_Marcus)A wry, acerbic Tyne Daly is the play’s emotional center (and indisputable highlight) as Katharine Gerard, the stubbornly intolerant mother to Andre, who died 20 years before the show begins. She arrives unannounced on the doorstep of her son’s lover Cal (Frederick Weller), who cared for him until his death. Cal has a husband now, Will (Bobby Steggert), 15 years his junior, and a 6-year-old son Bud (Grayson Taylor).

Ensconced in a massive, tasteful apartment (designed by John Lee Beatty) with a sweeping view of Central Park, by all accounts the young family couldn’t be happier. Cal is a successful money manger, Will is a stay-at-home writer-cum-full-time father, and Bud is so utterly self-possessed he could be a poster child for This Gay American Life.

MS_Tyne_Daly_in_a_scene_from_Terrence_McNallys_MOTHERS_AND_SONS_on_Broadway._(Photo_by_Joan_Marcus)And so, of course, history comes knocking. Why Katharine stops by and what she wants remain something of a mystery throughout, but mostly it’s to drum up ghosts and open old wounds. Hers, it seems, have never healed, and she quickly resents Cal for moving on and starting a family with Will.

Ms. Daly is top notch, her dry wit and razor sharp delivery bringing to mind another Katharine — Hepburn, just past her prime fighting years. Her ability to draw out our sympathy for a prickly, somewhat bigoted and often bitter woman is impressive, especially given her role as the play’s antagonist in an argument for progress.

In all fairness to Katharine, that argument is mostly one-sided, as she becomes a sounding board with her stockings firmly planted on the wrong side of history. The evening’s bullet points fly at her from two directions—from Cal, who saw many of his peers die from AIDS, and Will, who grew up with a Millennial’s expectations of a gay life not much different from those of his straight peers.

MS_Bobby_Steggert,_Frederick_Weller,_Grayson_Taylor,_and_Tyne_Daly_in_a_scene_from_Terrence_McNallys_MOTHERS_AND_SONS_on_Broadway_(Photo_by_Joan_Marcus)Where Katharine’s arsenal is full of biting, amusing one-liners, Cal and Will speak as though life were a sort of elite cocktail party where being pedantic is part of the dress code. While we’re surely on board with most everything they say, it’s hard to really get behind them (except maybe to slip away and find someone less self-serious to mingle with).

For those, like Katharine, with a ways to go in opening their minds, McNally provides worthwhile, critical instruction. Though the play’s rallying cry for tolerance, and for respect to those we lost in our culture war’s most gruesome era would be that much more moving and persuasive were its gay characters a bit more flesh and blood. 

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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos: joan marcus)


Terrence McNally On Love, Loss, "Mothers And Sons": Video

Playwright Terrence McNally recently spoke with Tim Murphy at POZ about his new AIDS memory play Mothers and Sons that debuted this month for a short run at The Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Pennsylvania.  The play stars Tyne Daly who has previously starred in McNally's Master Class and served as a witness at McNally's 2010 wedding to partner Tom Kirdahy.  McNally also talked about the impact AIDS has had on the gay community along with his own experience with losing two lovers to AIDS:

Motherandsons2You’ve lived through several decades of both gay life and AIDS in New York City. What’s that been like?
Mainly I feel a sense of wonder and pride at the enormous changes in everybody. When I first came to New York from Texas in 1955 as a gay man, I was 17. Gay bars were in basements, unmarked firetraps. They were like the speakeasies of the 1920s—you felt you were breaking the law by going there. And now, in my lifetime, Tom and I are legally married, and in this new play, the couple even has a child. Gay life has changed, and AIDS is a huge part of that. Gay pride and AIDS are connected, the way the community came together because of AIDS. I don’t think there was much of a gay community before AIDS.

Has it been hard living through the deaths of two lovers?
It’s devastating. But clearly I wouldn’t have written this play if I didn’t want to show that life can go on. When Robert died, I didn’t expect to meet Gary, and when Gary died, I didn’t expect to meet Tom. So that makes me an optimist. What am I supposed to do? Live with devastation and anger and fear, or do I do something about it? [Pauses; laughs.] You know, it’s easier for me to write about these things than to talk about them. But I have friends who have not started a relationship since they lost a partner to AIDS. When I first met Tom, I was embarrassed. I wondered if Gary’s friends were asking, How could I have loved Gary so much if I could love someone else? But I would never say there are rules for life, that if you truly love someone you can never love again."

Read the full interview here.

Be sure to check out a video of Terrence and Tyne talking about the new play AFTER THE JUMP...

(photo via Mandee Kuenzle/Bucks County Playhouse)

Continue reading "Terrence McNally On Love, Loss, "Mothers And Sons": Video" »


Terrence McNally's 'The Golden Age' Opens Off-Broadway: REVIEW

Golden age
(photos by Joan Marcus)

BY NAVEEN KUMAR

The true nature of art, the steadfastness of love, the inevitability of death—this is the stuff of great opera, and the same lofty stuff that Terrence McNally’s play The Golden Age, which made its New York premiere Off-Broadway this week at Manhattan Theatre Club’s City Center Stage I, struggles to lay bare — just without all the beautiful music.

Ga2Set backstage on opening night of Vincenzo Bellini’s 1835 opera I Puritani in Paris, the play attempts to tackle in plain spoken contemporary words the sort of operatic stakes about which Bellini’s characters sing on stage out of sight. It’s a tall order, even for a gifted veteran of the American theatre like McNally, known for (among other things) his insightful dramas centered upon gay experience, homophobia and the AIDS crisis (Lips Together, Teeth Apart; Love! Valour! Compassion!), and acclaimed plays about opera and opera divas (The Lisbon Traviata, Master Class).

Despite assembling a top notch cast, including stalwarts of the stage Bebe Neuwirth and an underused F. Murray Abraham, McNally’s latest treatment of somewhat familiar territory falls short of offering insight on any of the various broad-stroke themes it has in its sights.

The always charming Lee Pace (Lincoln, The Normal Heart) has the whirlwind task of playing young artist Bellini—pacing, fretting and waxing poetically through the trial of a composer milling backstage during his opera’s opening night. Pace commits fully to his tireless performance of an artist consumed. Equally arrogant and insecure, Bellini becomes McNally’s resident voice of artistic authority, voicing passionate theories about art, artistic integrity and the nature of creativity. Trouble arises as we are constantly led to draw comparisons between the playwright’s work and his character’s best laid ideas about art. “The highest art should be un-performable,” Bellini says. “What they call art is artifice. What I call art is free, as wild as unmanageable as life itself. Away with structure. Only feeling matters.”

Under the serviceable though staid direction of Walter Bobbie (Venus in Fur), McNally’s play soars to no such heights. Propped up between structures—of the opera being performed off-stage and the historical characters upon which Golden Age is based—much of the drama deals in artifice and ego, without scratching beneath the surface of caricature.

Ga3Though Bellini and his cast of characters (and lovers) are based on people who lived and breathed, whether the audience is familiar with the world of nineteenth century opera or not, the play provides precious little help for understanding much about these players beyond their vocal range and professional rivalries. As Francesco Florimo, Bellini’s young patron and male lover, Will Rogers (The Public’s As You Like It) stands out as the most affecting corner of the central love triangle that also include’s Neuwirth’s Maria Malibran. Rogers brings a tender emotional shading to the role mostly missing from the rest of the play.

Much of the evening’s humor comes in the form of insider opera jokes and racial-ethnic stereotypes bandied between Europeans — generalizations based on nationality where specifics about characters would be helpful. Bits of bawdy physical humor crop up throughout, mostly thanks to the baritone (Lorenzo Pisoni) who uses fruit and vegetables to enhance the bulge in his pants. Consistent with the rest of the period drama clichés at work, a nineteenth century cough in the first act reveals itself as a sign of fatal illness by the second, in the form of a bloody handkerchief. The spotted rag of course belongs to Bellini, whose premature death at the age of 33 hangs over the evening lending ominous shadows to much theorizing about the nature of art and immortality. Ultimately, McNally provides little by way of revelation on this front—Bellini’s opera indeed lives on, and actors and audience alike listen wistfully to unseen snippets. If only a little of its artistry were in the room at City Center.

***

Naveen Kumar is a writer and editor living in New York City. He has spent close to ten years working in the New York theatre world and recently earned a masters degree in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University. Starting today, Naveen will be contributing reviews, interviews, and other items of interest related to theatre for Towleroad.


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