Terrence McNally Documentary on PBS

Elisa Lichtenbaum | March 27, 2020

Updated April 2, 2020


In celebration of McNally’s life, American Masters — Terrence McNally: Every Act of Life returns to streaming for a limited time (ends April 2).
Playwright, librettist, scriptwriter and LGBTQ activist Terrence McNally died on March 24, 2020 from complications due to the coronavirus. Born November 3, 1938, McNally long believed in the power of the arts to transform society and make a difference. His trailblazing works, such as Ragtime, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Love! Valour! Compassion!, the Maria Callas-inspired Master Class, and Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune do just that.

On June 9, 2019, McNally received a 2019 Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre – his fifth Tony. On June 14, American Masters lifted the curtain on his remarkable life and career in the PBS national premiere of Terrence McNally: Every Act of Life.

“Terrence is able to get to the core of the human condition in so many different ways,” says Audra McDonald, a Tony winner for Ragtime and Master Class who is currently starring in an acclaimed Broadway revival of Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune with Michael Shannon.

In addition to new interviews with McNally, the film features insights from his friends and family, and notable stars of stage and screen including F. Murray Abraham, Christine Baranski, Tyne Daly, Edie Falco, John Kander, Nathan Lane, Angela Lansbury, Audra McDonald, Rita Moreno, Chita Rivera, plus the voices of Bryan Cranston and Meryl Streep.

From his troubled beginnings in Corpus Christi, Texas, to his college years in New York City, from dating playwright Edward Albee to traveling the world as the tutor to John Steinbeck’s children and having his first Broadway play flop at age 24, the film traces McNally’s personal and professional successes, struggles and failures.

Rising above challenges, including his abusive alcoholic parents and growing up as a gay teen in a conservative Christian town, McNally overcame his own alcoholism, the deaths of friends and lovers to AIDS and cancer, including fellow playwright Wendy Wasserstein, and his own brutal fight with lung cancer. An outspoken champion of marriage equality and LGBTQ rights, he faced violent protests over his controversial play Corpus Christi – a gay, modern-day retelling of the story of Jesus – and found lasting love with his now-husband, producer-lawyer Tom Kirdahy.

“The stakes are really high now, higher than ever…. We need to love one another more and see how connected we really are. I think that’s the message of art,” says McNally.

Playwright, librettist, scriptwriter and outspoken LGBTQ activist Terrence McNally in 2018. Courtesy: Terrence McNally. Photo by: Michael Nagle


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