And Things That Go Bump in the Night

It’s hard to believe it’s been over two months since we started our unplanned coronavirus quarantine,  and I’m still reeling with dismay and disbelief.

And in March I was so sorry to learn of the Covid-related death of Terrence McNally at age 81.  McNally had been one of America’s greatest contemporary playwrights and apparently had chronic pulmonary disease and had overcome lung cancer.

In my college days at NYU,  I took a modern drama course with a professor whose partner was a new young playwright named Arthur Kopit.  Naturally we read Kopit’s early works,  and one night went with our professor to see a Greenwich Village production of Kopit’s play Oh Dad, Poor Dad. Mamma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad,  afterwards meeting the playwright backstage.

We also read the early works of another playwright in Kopit’s circle,  the lesser-known Texas-born Terrence McNally.  I  was captivated by McNally’s writing then,  and have since followed his long,  very prolific and successful theatrical career.

McNally wrote over three dozen plays including the Tony Award winners Love!  Valor!  Compassion!  about a group of gay men vacationing together,  and Master Class about the opera diva Maria Callas.

And he also wrote the books for ten musicals including the Tony winners Kiss of the Spider Woman,  set in an Argentine prison,  and Ragtime based on the E L Doctorow novel about three turn-of-the -20th century New York families seeking the American dream.  An amazingly versatile writer,   McNally also penned opera librettos and screenplays for film and TV.   And just last season we saw a stirring revival of his play Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune.

But his first play to appear on Broadway was And Things That Go Bump in the Night.  The year was 1964 and the subject was unusual and risky for the time – a romance between two gay men.

By serendipity in the late 1980s I met the playwright when we were both attending a Lifespring weekend in New York.   Lifespring was a human potential program,  an offshoot of Werner Erhard’s EST,  and at the outset of the weekend we were all sitting in a large circle introducing ourselves.  When it was McNally’s turn and he said his name,  I cried out,  “Are you THE Terrence McNally?”

A few weeks later he joined us for dinner and a performance of one of his plays then running on Broadway.   I would never miss a McNally play,   but I don’t remember which one we saw that night.

I just remember my delight in spending an evening with Terrence McNally!

Dana Susan Lehrman


 

26 Comments

  • I never knew you went to NYU. So did I. Obviously we couldn’t have been classmates because you’re so much older than me.

    • Ah yes, and so when I was on the JAHS faculty you must have been a mere student, and a bad one at that as I seem to remember you were always sitting in the dean’s office.

  • You are so lucky to have met McNally in person. I am also a fan and some of my best theatre moments has been seeing his plays. His characters and themes will continue to bring theatergoers to their collective feet in praise of his genius.

  • The world around me fades away when I read your posts. A much appreciated gift. Thank you and dare I say, I’m a little envious of the cultural life you had in your youth.

    I had the pleasure of seeing ‘Central Park’ at Glimmerglass a number of years ago. It was a premier production of three operettas and McNally was librettist for one of them.
    Stay well!
    XXDD

  • Dana, I always enjoy your brown-eyed vision of the world. Always interesting, always fun, just like you!

  • Thanks for educating me on the life & work of Terence McNally. I really didn’t know much about him.

  • what a loving and lovely tribute to a man whose works obviously brought such enjoyment and entertainment to your life. you were indeed very lucky to meet him. I do recall so many of his works, altho I can’t recall how many I’d seen while living in NY. thank you for your memories.

  • A warm, beautifully written and perfect obit from a friend and admirer of the playwright whom you were lucky to know.
    Your love of theater comes through!

  • What lovely memories! It’s a rare, treasured thing to have spent wonderful personal time in the presence of one of our life heroes.

    • Thanx Mike, indeed McNally was a theatre hero of mine.

      Of course I can’t claim we became fast friends, but during that Lifespring weekend we poured out our hearts and got to know each other a bit more than you’d guess!

  • It’s always interesting when you give a personal spin to news that I read.
    You make your connection to authors and playwrights seem like serendipity, but it’s more as if you purposely explore diverse opportunities.
    Always good for a smile of admiration, and your memory ain’t bad either!

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