Pioneering Playwright Terrence McNally Dies from Coronavirus Complications

Terrence McNally
Terrence McNally, Photo: Jimi Celeste/PMC

Tony-winning playwright and East Ender Terrence McNally died on Tuesday, March 24 due to complications from the Coronavirus. He was 81.

McNally was a groundbreaking and powerful theatrical voice with a huge body of work. He won Tony Awards for Ragtime, Master Class, Love! Valour! Compassion! and Kiss of the Spider Woman and received a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2019. 

A longtime Hamptonite, McNally premiered several plays on the East End, including Bad Habits in 1971 and Broadway, Broadway in 1978 at Guild Hall’s John Drew Theatre. “Guild Hall was a friendly place to work for him in a neighborhood he loved,” says Guild Artistic Director Josh Gladstone. “He [and husband Tom Kirdahy] appreciated the convenience of the theater, and was always a champion of the arts, always there supporting Guild Hall.”

McNally had also had a significant presence at Bay Street Theater, premiering By The Sea, By The Sea, By The Beautiful Sea there in 1995. “All of us at Bay Street will miss Terrence deeply,” says Artistic Director Scott Schwartz. “He was a brilliant writer, one of the finest of his generation, and this is a profound loss for all who work in or love the theater. We are proud and grateful that Bay Street had the opportunity to collaborate with Terrence. It was an honor and privilege to know him, and we know he will live on through his writing forever.” Bay Street Theater is scheduled to present Ragtime this August. 

A pioneer of the gay rights movement, many of McNally’s plays concerned queer themes. McNally was unique in that much of his LGBTQ-related work crossed over into the mainstream including Love! Valour! Compassion! and Corpus Christi. Some of his other high-profile plays include Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune, It’s Only a Play, Deuce and Lips Together, Teeth Apart.

McNally is survived by Kirdahy. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to BC/EFA and the Dramatist Guild Foundation.

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