‘I couldn’t believe my luck to know him’: tributes to Terrence McNally | Stage

F Murray Abraham: ‘He was from another planet’

There was a closed audition for Terrence’s play Where Has Tommy Flowers Gone? in 1971. I showed up anyway. They said we’re not seeing anyone without an appointment. I said I’ll wait – maybe you’ll change your mind. At the end of a long day, Terrence said: “Well, let’s give him a break.” I did an audition and Terrence said to me: “Where have you been all my life?” And that began our friendship – I’ve done more of his plays than any other actor.

He and his husband lived two blocks away from me. We were very close. He grew up in Texas, like me. To be queer there in the 1950s must have been really hard. But he overcame all that crap. He was from another planet. Where he got the courage and the strength to overcome it and insist on dignity for queer culture is a mystery. I imagine his idea was that writing was the best way to accomplish what he wanted. His sense of humour kept him afloat. He was quick, funny, delightful. One of his favourite lines from Shakespeare was “Where the bee sucks, there suck I.” He was really puckish. Terrence was young for ever. And he was always forgiving – considering some of the shit I pulled, he still forgave me. And he wrote a play for me: Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune.

F Murray Abraham and Terrence McNally.

F Murray Abraham and Terrence McNally. Photograph: Walter McBride/Corbis via Getty Images

Paula Vogel: ‘A giant with the kindest eyes’

The one word that rises to everyone’s lips when we talk about Terrence McNally is “kind”. He was remarkably kind, in a field that runs on adrenaline. I was intimidated by his achievements and his writing when I first met him; but with one gaze from his eyes I felt, as did we all, remarkably at home. Terrence was a role model: interested in younger artists, curious about innovations in theatre, voracious in his encouragement to us. In the years that followed, as I went through a metal detector to support his play Corpus Christi in the face of death threats, and sat in packed theatres watching Kiss of the Spider Woman, and Ragtime and Master Class, I couldn’t believe my good luck to know him. Terrence McNally was the first in our field to hold the door to the boys’ club of theatre and open it wide for the girls. We’ve lost a giant with the kindest eyes.

  • The run of Paula Vogel’s play Indecent at the Menier Chocolate Factory, London, has been delayed

Ken Ludwig: ‘He gave me thrill after thrill’

I adored Terrence for lots of reasons. He was a model for me as I grew up in the theatre. He gave me thrill after thrill as I watched his masterworks on the stage. And he was unfailingly kind to me every time I met him. The last time was on the street in Cape May, New Jersey, where we were both teaching young theatre students, a day each, at the Cape May playhouse. He went first, and at the end of his day, he was as spruce and jaunty as ever. He made me laugh aloud about the joys of living at a beach resort in a classy bed and breakfast (“We’re getting paid for this?”); and, as always, he brightened my existence. He will be deeply missed, always revered and remembered with love.

T Scott Cunningham, Mario Cantone, Richard Bekins and Randy Becker in Love! Valour! Compassion! at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles.

T Scott Cunningham, Mario Cantone, Richard Bekins and Randy Becker in Love! Valour! Compassion! at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. Photograph: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Jeremy O Harris: ‘His theatre meant the warmth of bodies’

When I met Terrence McNally, he led with a smile of such unadulterated geniality I felt the fire-cracklin’ warmth of a southern upbringing before he even opened his mouth. It’s a warmth that many of his collaborators – it feels as though most of the New York theatre community worked with him in some way – have articulated they were met with as well. After reading of his passing I decided that I wanted to reacquaint myself with that warmth and perhaps share it with some who had never experienced by hosting a digital screening of 1997’s Love! Valour! Compassion!

When thinking of McNally I think of Hestia, the greek goddess of the hearth, so married is his work to the construction of the theatre as a home for gay men. In McNally’s theatre, home meant harsh truths and discomfiting reversals of fate, yet it also meant the warmth of bodies nearby soaking in the warmth of the fire he had stoked.

Last night, while soaking in that warmth with a new generation, I felt the walls of the home Terrence had built start to form around us. I felt each of us, socially isolated across the globe, leaning closer to our screens and closer to each other, warming ourselves in the glow of the fire he had built. ​

  • The run of Jeremy O Harris’s play Daddy at the Almeida, London, has been delayed

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