Broadway still beckons for Tony Award winner
Acclaimed playwright Terrence McNally discusses the state of the Great White Way and why he still gets pre-opening jitters.
By Theresa Agovino
January 21, 2015 11:17 a.m.
Terrence McNally celebrated his 50th year on Broadway in 2014 with the star-studded revival and box-office success of It's Only a Play. The 76-year-old playwright has won four Tony Awards for writing—only Tom Stoppard has enjoyed the same success—as well as an Emmy, four Drama Desk Awards and two Guggenheim fellowships, among other accolades.
Mr. McNally's ability to write in different genres is a rarity. Love! Valour! Compassion! and Master Class earned Tonys for best play; Kiss of the Spider Woman and Ragtime for best book of a musical.
Mr. McNally wrote the book for The Visit, a musical that received critical praise at Williamstown, Mass., last summer. It will come to Broadway this spring with star Chita Rivera, who appeared in Kiss of the Spider Woman.
Q: Do you still go to your plays every night?
A: I go every night up until opening night. After that, I get nervous because I'm not working on it anymore. I think, "Did they laugh more last night?" If there is any diminution of the volume of the laugh, it is upsetting.
Q: What are you looking for in actors?
A: You want people who understand your point of view, get your jokes. Nathan [Lane] has never said to me, "I don't understand this line." If someone doesn't know what is funny or ironic, it is hard to explain. When actors aren't well cast, the odds of it working out are nil.
Q: Do you read reviews?
A: I have stopped reading them in the past 20 years. It's just healthier. I don't remember the good reviews. I only remember bad ones—they are seared in your brain. You can tell by sitting in the theater if the audience liked it.
Q: How do you weigh financial success versus artistic success?
A: If you get both, you've hit the jackpot. I'm very respectful of people who invest their money and hope they will make their money back. I won't change something to make it more commercial. People said my last play, Mothers and Sons, had important things to say. We didn't make the money back, but I'm still proud of it.
Q: Mothers and Sons deals with AIDS, a subject you've tackled before. Do you think you'll keep writing about it?
A: It's so easy to say AIDS is behind us, but it is not. The difference is that people are living with AIDS. I thought writing about the aftereffects [of the early crisis] was interesting. I'm married, but homophobia still exists. That's why I wanted to write it.
Q: Do you have a preference between writing plays and musicals?
A: I consider myself a playwright who has written some musicals. I don't dream in musicals. I don't like the time they take. In a play, I have a meeting with a director. In a musical, it is me, the director, the composer, the lyricist, the choreographer. You spend half your life trying to find a meeting time.
Q: What are some of the biggest changes you have seen in the theater?
A: The worst change is the diminution of quantity. There are so many fewer plays, and that saddens me. I wish we had less competition from California and what they pay writers. I don't think Eugene O'Neill or Tennessee Williams was ever tempted to go out and write for TV. When young playwrights ask me for advice, I say, "If you are serious about being a playwright, stay in New York and write plays." I'll see them a year later, and they'll tell me they are writing a TV pilot.
Q: Is winning the Tony still important to you?
A: It helps to sell tickets. It doesn't mean I'm more talented. But it does mean acceptance by your peers, and Broadway is a small world. I look at them [his Tonys] whenever I'm feeling sorry for myself, and say, "Stop it."
Q: Who is your favorite playwright?
A: Shakespeare. For the beauty of the language—he gives English such rhythm and vitality. He is the one I read for for pleasure and inspiration.
Q: How about a living playwright?
A: You only lose mentioning favorites.
Q: To what do you attribute your success?
A: I write accessible characters. No one ever says, "I don't understand what you are getting at." People who like my work think I transition from humor to the most serious without a lot of grinding of gears. It is like life. You don't get ready to get hit by the bus. You just get hit by the bus.
A version of this article appears in the January 19, 2015, print issue of Crain's New York Business as "Broadway still beckons for 50-year playwriting vet". ... See MoreSee Less
From the Brandeis University Independent Student Newspaper - 1/21/2015
The Way of Water by Caridad Svich
Directed by Prof. Robert Walsh (THA)
March 12 to 15 at the Laurie Theater, Spingold Theater Center
As the 2010 British Petrolium Deepwater Horizon oil spill proceedings make their way through the legal system, the spill’s effects linger in artists’ minds. Inspired by the ordeal, Caridad Svich wrote a play exploring the crisis’ effects. Svich is a 2012 Off-Broadway Theater Award (OBIE) recipient and 2002-2003 Harvard University Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study fellow. Svich’s play follows four people as they attempt to cope with the human effects of the spill and discover what it means to live an honorable life. The play’s personal narrative evokes deeper themes that help frame the oil spill and its traumatic repercussions. ... See MoreSee Less
Different Stages to Present Theresa Rebeck's MAURITIUS at City Theatre, 1/9-31
5:07 PM 2015
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👤by BWW News Desk
BROADWAY.COM/Broadway Week - Jan 20 - Feb 9
Different Stages continues its 2013 - 2014 season with Theresa Rebeck's Mauritius, running January 9 - 31, 2015 at the City Theatre (3823 Airport Blvd, Ste D).
Two estranged half-sisters sisters are mourning the recent loss of their mother. However, they inherit from her a valuable stamp collection that includes a "One and a Two Penny Mauritius," two of the world's rarest stamps. One sister tries to collect on the windfall, while the other resists for sentimental reasons. In this gripping tale, a seemingly simple sale becomes dangerous when three seedy, high-stakes collectors enter the scene, willing to bully, connive, cheat, and, if all else fails, conduct a legitimate business transaction in order to claim the rare find as their own. The characters try to out con each other in an attempt to reap the possible rewards. They face off in shifting configurations, each exchange and encounter emotionally fraught with growing tension. This play is tightly written and is compared by critics to the timeless film The Maltese Falcon.
Mauritius is directed by Mick D'Arcy (You Can't Take it with You). Playing the two half-sisters are Melissa Voigt (Quills) and Jean Budney (Good People). Playing the three stamp collectors are Barry Pineo (Man and Superman), Matt Patterson (For Fear the Glass May Shatter) and Craig Kanne (Pygmalion).
Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 5pm. Tickets are Pick your Price: $15, $20, $25, and $30. Purchase or Reserve Tickets Here or call (512) 926-6747. ... See MoreSee Less