Terrence McNally, catch him if you can

Jun 04

I wrote a feature on New Conservatory Theatre Center’s Some Men by Terrence McNally for today’s San Francisco Chronicle.

You can read it here.

Here are a few pieces of my interview with Mr. McNally that didn’t make it into the newspaper.

Terrence McNally

In addition to Some Men opening this week at the NCTC, McNally has a few other irons in the fire:

  • Last month he wrapped a critically lauded revival of Ragtime (he adapted E.L. Doctorow’s book with Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens providing the score) at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. The cast (which McNally describes as “much younger than the original company) included Christiane Noll as Mother and Manoel Felciano (now in Edward Albee’s At Home at the Zoo here in San Francisco at American Conservatory Theater) as Tateh. The show was so well received, in fact, that there were meetings about a possible transfer to Broadway. “We’ll see,” McNally says. “That would make a lot of people happy.” The show has a whole different production team, headed by director/choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge, but even more than that, McNally says, the country has gone through a seismic shift since Ragtime opened on Broadway in 1998. “The show has a relevance now it didn’t have with the election of Obama,” McNally says. “You view a show like this differently through the lens of current events. People think we’ve re-written it, but it’s not like it was show that didn’t work the first time.”
    McNally isn’t exactly making plans for opening night on Broadway. “I don’t celebrate anything until I’m seeing the curtain go up,” he says. “So much can go wrong at 11:59, which I’ve learned after many bitter disappointments. I’ve learned not to celebrate just because we had a good meeting…but things look really good. We’ll see.”
  • This summer, McNally is a West Coast kind of guy. This week at the La Jolla Playhouse, McNally opened his play Unusual Acts of Devotion with a cast that includes Doris Roberts (“Everybody Loves Raymond”), Richard Thomas (“The Waltons”) and Tony-winner Harriet Harris (Thoroughly Modern Millie) under the direction of Trip Cullman. The show runs through June 28, and then the writer heads up to Seattle (with a likely stop in San Francisco to see NCTC’s Some Men).
  • Toward the end of July, at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre, McNally is part of the creative team behind the Broadway-bound musical Catch Me If You Can (based on the book and movie of the same name). Much of the team behind Hairspray – composer Marc Shaiman, lyricist Scott Wittman, director Jack O’Brien, choreographer Jerry Mitchell – have reunited for this show. McNally is the new kid on the block, but after The Rink, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Ragtime, The Full Monty, A Man of No Importance and The Visit, he’s no stranger to the world of musical.
    Rather than depending solely on the Steven Spielberg movie that starred Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank Abagnale, a slippery young con artist, McNally has turned to Abagnale’s original book for inspiration. “I hope I have found an emotional resonance to make audiences care about the characters,” he says. “A stage version cannot compete with the movie and its hairbreadth escapes and chases involving airplanes. Maybe someone could do that in a theater. I don’t know how. So my story is much more about the psychological chase of the FBI agent assigned to bring Frank in. It’s a father-son surrogate story. Frank’s real father let him down, and this motivates much of his action. We have musicalized the story, not put a movie on stage, which can very often be the case when movies are translated to the Broadway stage. I’m very proud of this piece.”
    It has been said that working on a musical out of town can be one of the most trying, aggravating and crazy-making experiences on earth. Not for McNally. This is his seventh time out, and he has yet to see the kind of drama people expect from Hollywood versions of backstage drama along the lines of All About Eve. “There’s this preconceived notion of the leading lady throwing down her mink and stomping out,” McNally says. “That has never been my experience, but I have to say it’s an exciting thing to do. There’s a lot of pressure and high emotion. But I don’t ever anticipate being hysterical. I anticipate being challenged and hope I rise to that challenge with my sense of humor and sanity intact. In the writer’s room or in the rehearsal space, the play is the most important thing, the only thing in the world. But out in the street, in the real world, there’s a more important life beyond that.”
  • Some Men, which ran off Broadway two years ago at the Second Stage Theatre (under Cullman’s direction), celebrates gay history and the relatively swift march toward equality in the form of legalized same-sex marriage, which is a given in the play. McNally and his partner, Tom, were civically united in Vermont. “We thought we were doing a political act,” McNally says. “We’d go to Vermont and give the state another number. But the emotions were so strong. The night before we both got so thoughtful at the profundity of it. Our people are raised on `what you do is illegal and criminal and society hates you.’ But to stand in the country and get married. It was…People staying at the inn watched the ceremony, and by the end there must have been 30 people cheering for two strangers. It was incredibly moving to say to another person: `I am yours to the end, for the long haul.’ The change in this country is just amazing. Gay men and women had half-visible, half-not roles for years. They might have been accepted but were frowned on, not embraced. Now I feel such clarity with my friends. I know they take Tom and me just as seriously as any other married couple.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Terrence McNally’s Some Men continues through July 12 at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco. Tickets are $22-$34. Call 415-861-8972 or visit www.nctcsf.org for information.

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  1. Chad Jones’ Theater Dogs » Theater review: `Some Men’ - [...] heartfelt and even a little corny, Terrence McNally’s Some Men traipses through gay male history the way a Queer …

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