More than any other major playwright, Terrence McNally has zeroed in on that tribe that we know so well, creating gay characters as they might appear in their natural habitats, ranging from the pastoral weekends of Love! Valour! Compassion!to the topsy-turvy world of The Lisbon Traviata, where two opera queens’ obsession with Maria Callas takes over their lives and their relationship in grand operatic style.
The challenge faced by director Jeff Kaufman was to tell in ninety minutes the story of a playwright who has been relentlessly prolific for 55 years, and a man who’s had a fairly complicated personal life. Kaufman starts at the beginning with McNally’s itinerant childhood, his move to New York to attend Columbia, and his affair as a handsome young man with playwright Edward Albee.
The rest is a romp through the many artistic phases he went through, with clips from some of his best-known plays—Nathan Lane in Lips Together, Teeth Apart, Zoe Caldwell in Master Class—as well as a manageable number of boyfriends, winding up with his longtime husband, Thomas Kirdahy.
The madcap pace of McNally’s career is reflected in the cavalcade of friends and colleagues who put in their two cents as commentators, mostly extolling McNally’s virtues as a writer and collaborator, including (in approximate order of screen time): Nathan Lane, F. Murray Abraham, Tyne Daly, Angela Lansbury, Chita Rivera, Peter McNally (Terrence’s brother), and many others. The effect of all this is that one leaves the theater with head slightly spinning, but with a new admiration for a playwright who has taken huge risks—Corpus Christie, anyone?—while creating a world in which gay lives really do matter in the larger human comedy.
This is one of the many documentaries that was shown at the Provincetown International Film Festival in June.