In Memoriam: Terrence McNally
There’s something queer about how we tend to dismiss the mundane humanity of heroes. Their achievements overshadow their frailty and freeze them in time and space in our collective imagination. And when the inevitable happens, we enter into a brief period of disbelief. Then that disbelief gives way to grief.
Esteemed and award-winning playwright Terrence McNally has passed away due to Coronavirus complications in a Sarasota hospital today, March 24, 2020. McNally, 81, is survived by his husband, Broadway producer Tom Kirdahy, and his family.
One of American theatre’s most prolific playwrights, McNally has been awarded four Tony Awards for the musicals “Ragtime” (1998), “Kiss of the Spiderwoman” (1993), and for two of his most successful plays “Love! Valour! Compassion!” (1995) and “Master Class” (1996). Widely considered as one of the greatest contemporary playwrights of this generation, McNally has gone on the receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Theatre Wing in 1999. His masterful work on contemporary LGBT life, and the humanization of members of the community, has served as inspiration for the country as it grappled with the aftermath of the AIDS epidemic, and has led to greater awareness and acceptance within modern society. His work is characterized with a measured, sober wit and intelligence that perfectly captured the spirit of a rapidly changing age.
Terrence McNally’s Lifetime Achievement Award Acceptance Speech (2019)
In his work echoes the song of the lost generation; the artists, dancers, actors, writers, and ordinary men and women whose lives were tragically cut short by the HIV-AIDS epidemic. He was able to speak for the millions of people who would have otherwise gone on to illustrious careers, and was able to preserve their struggle through his works. In this, he found his calling.
There’s something queer about how we tend to dismiss the mundane humanity of heroes. When we try and process our feelings of grief, we tend to work our way backwards and try to remember fragments of our own lives and how our experience of the world is enriched by them. In their passing, we focus on the positive to fill the gap they leave behind. We feel sympathy, we feel profound sadness, and we feel compassion. But among these, we also feel love, and hope, and gratitude: the world is made much brighter by his life. His work will live on to continue to inspire a new generation of artists, and carry his enduring message of acceptance, and love for theatre, that will never die.