Terrence McNally, Tony-Winning Playwright of Gay Life, Dies at 81

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Terrence McNally, the four-time Tony Award-winning playwright whose outpouring of work for the theater dramatized and domesticated gay life across five decades, died on Tuesday in Sarasota, Fla. He was 81.

The cause was complications of the coronavirus, a spokesman, Matt Polk said. He said Mr. McNally had chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, and had overcome lung cancer. He died at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

Mr. McNally’s Tony Awards attest to his versatility. Two were for books for musicals, “Kiss of the Spider Woman” (1993) and “Ragtime” (1998), and two were for plays, and vastly different ones: “Love! Valor! Compassion!” (1995), about gay men who share a vacation house, and “Master Class” (1996), in which the opera diva Maria Callas reflects on her career.

And those prize winners were only a small part of his oeuvre. With 36 plays to his credit, as well as the books for 10 musicals, the librettos for four operas and a handful of screenplays for film and television, Mr. McNally was a remarkably prolific and consistent dramatist.

His career, which began on Broadway in 1963 with an adaptation of “The Lady of the Camellias” starring Susan Strasberg, continued without much interruption through last year’s revival of his “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune,” starring Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon.

In between, in a series of successes including “The Ritz,” “The Lisbon Traviata,” “Lips Together, Teeth Apart” and “Love! Valour! Compassion!,” McNally introduced Broadway and Off Broadway audiences to characters and situations that most mainstream theater had previously shunted into comic asides.

A complete obituary will be published shortly.


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