Terrence McNally in the Pages of The New York Times


He certainly didn’t shy from work. Terrence McNally wrote 36 plays, as well as the books for 10 musicals and the librettos for four operas. He earned four Tony Awards and developed fruitful professional relationships with Nathan Lane, Tyne Daly and Audra McDonald, among others. Here’s a look at what the Times said about his remarkable output over the decades.

That two equally last-ditch middle-aged characters with such perfectly interlocking neuroses should find themselves in Frankie’s cheerless Hell’s Kitchen studio … is a premise you could pick at. Too much symmetry seems suspicious. And some of Mr. McNally’s habitual flourishes show through the play’s surface like the underpainting of a different picture: the showbiz references, the orotund dialogue, the frequent intrusion of classical music … Still, time has been good to “Frankie and Johnny.” JESSE GREEN

Anastasia the person, played by Christy Altomare, has it easy compared with “Anastasia” the musical. She has to worry only about whether she’s really a princess. And judging by her instinctive poise, commanding condescension and cut-glass accent, she can’t be in that much doubt, though she does sometimes go all wobbly when ghosts of the Romanov Empire dance around her. The show in which she appears trembles nonstop with internal conflicts during its drawn-out two-and-a-half hours. BEN BRANTLEY

When Chita Rivera steps solemnly to the edge of the stage in the opening scene of ‘The Visit,’ she sweeps the audience with a gaze that could freeze over hell … It’s the history that the 82-year-old Ms. Rivera carries and the expertise with which she deploys it that keep the chill off this elegant dirge of a production, directed by John Doyle. If “The Visit,” which also stars Roger Rees and features a tartly didactic book by Terrence McNally, occupies a sort of landscaped plateau in this terrain, its leading lady continues to tower. “I’m unkillable,” Ms. Rivera’s character says, and a line uttered with throwaway bravado stops the show. BEN BRANTLEY

One of the reasons that “It’s Only a Play” is already a gold-mining hit is its unblushing willingness to play the fame card as an ace that can’t be beaten. As any of the pseudo-cynical, theater-obsessed characters in this work from the 1980s — which has been strategically rewritten by Mr. McNally — might point out, “That’s Broadway today, baby.” BEN BRANTLEY

Using as his starting point an uncomfortable reunion between an eternally angry mother and the former lover of her dead son, Mr. McNally charts the gains and losses, victories and defeats for gay men — or, specifically, middle-class gay men in Manhattan — in the years since AIDS was first identified in the early 1980s. BEN BRANTLEY

Unlike Milos Forman’s 1981 film adaptation of Mr. [E.L.] Doctorow’s book, this version has a seamless, fluid quality and also keeps the varied and intricate aspects of the plot helpfully clear. And both Mr. McNally’s libretto and Mr. [Stephen] Flaherty’s score often evoke the rhythms of the Scott Joplin-esque rag music used as a metaphor for changing times. BEN BRANTLEY

Zoe Caldwell has played a number of strong, often doomed women, from Cleopatra and Medea to Jean Brodie, Emma Hamilton and Lillian Hellman. Yet she has probably never played a strong, doomed woman who is as zestfully entertaining as the Maria Callas that Terrence McNally has imagined in “Master Class.” VINCENT CANBY

I don’t mean to denigrate the gifts of both Mr. McNally and Joe Mantello, the director, to suggest that this production was made for Broadway: It’s utterly contemporary; its one-liners are sometimes hysterical and are slammed home with style, most often by the incomparable Nathan Lane; it has genuine pathos that’s only slightly tinged with sentimentality, and, as a singular talking point, it offers more male nudity than has probably ever been seen in a legitimate Broadway theater. VINCENT CANBY

The production does succeed not only in giving Ms. Rivera a glittering spotlight but also in using the elaborate machinery of a big Broadway musical to tell the story of an uncloseted, unhomogenized, unexceptional gay man who arrives at his own heroic definition of masculinity. The smart author of the script is Terrence McNally, who has tucked some of his spiky wit into Molina and who invests the window dresser’s interior life with the same emotional urgency he brought to the Callas-worshipping opera fanatic in his play “The Lisbon Traviata.” FRANK RICH

“Like most of Mr. McNally’s recent writing (the musical “Kiss of the Spider Woman” excepted), his new work is a response to AIDS. But his gloom, understandably, has grown as the epidemic courses into its second decade. In “A Perfect Ganesh,” the skies often seem to be raining death, not only on Margaret and Katharine and their families back home, but also on everyone they encounter on vacation, from the gay and ill fellow American tourists in the next hotel room to the multitude of beggars they view from their own room’s balcony. FRANK RICH

In “The Lisbon Traviata,” Terrence McNally has written the theatrical equivalent of an operatic double bill — an opera bouffe followed by a tragic denouement. The first act, in the play’s newly revised version, is a savagely amusing and empathetic study of two men whose lives have been lost in opera. The second act is discordant. MEL GUSSOW

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