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Playwright Terrence McNally's connections

By Alicia Dietrich

Four-time Tony Award-winning playwright Terrence McNally is a frequent focus of theater news these days. This summer he completed a workshop production of his new drama, Unusual Acts of Devotion, at the La Jolla Playhouse, that starred Richard Thomas and Doris Roberts. His latest musical—a stage version of Catch Me If You Can, originally a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio—just closed in a workshop production in Seattle and will move to Broadway sometime in 2010. McNally will also be represented on Broadway this season by revivals of his musical Ragtime and his dramedy Lips Together, Teeth Apart. In March, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., is mounting a mini-festival of his work titled “Three Nights at the Opera with Terrence McNally” that will include productions of his The Lisbon Traviata and Master Class, and will feature a newly commissioned play focused on the opening night performance of Bellini’s I Puritani that will be titled The Golden Age.

McNally has thus far made three gifts of his papers to the Ransom Center, and researcher Raymond-Jean Frontain recently wrote an article about his work with the Ransom Center’s McNally papers. Frontain is a professor of English at the University of Central Arkansas, where he focuses on seventeenth-century literature.

So how does a specialist in seventeenth-century devotional literature find his way from the religious lyrics of John Donne to the work of contemporary playwright McNally?

“In 1993, I caught the Broadway production of A Perfect Ganesh with Frances Sternhagen, which was one of the most luminous performances that I had experienced in a long while,” Frontain explains. “The actor led me to the play. I’ve been exploring the religious bases of McNally’s drama ever since.”

Read Frontain’s article “Terrence McNally’s Connections,” in which he explores McNally’s relationship with John Steinbeck, Angela Lansbury, and others.


Patricia R. Fernos

This is a wonderful project for which that the Ransom Center can thank Dr. Maurine McElroy, (deceased) our incredible high school English teacher, who was an inspsiration to Terrence, to me, and to many other students of hers. Mrs. McElroy, as we called her, was responsible for getting Terrence to leave his archive to the Harry Ransom Library. Also, thanks, Raymond-Jean Frontain, for helping to spread the word!

Myron Yeager

Thank you for the introduction to the McNally materials in the Ransome Center. Prof. Frontain’s article on McNally and “connections” establishes a much needed sense of position for McNally and his work in contemporary theatre criticism. It’s exciting to see what is being done in the preservation of McNally’s archives and the critical assessment of his works. Thank you!

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