Terrence McNally Essay - McNally, Terrence (Vol. 4)

McNally, Terrence (Vol. 4)

McNally, Terrence 1939–

McNally, an American, is a dramatist with a fine comic talent. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 45-48.)

A classic farce in modern (un)dress—that's the very bright idea behind Terrence McNally's new play ["The Tubs"] instead of drawing rooms and ladies' boudoirs, the scene is a male bathhouse; and the inevitable philandering husband … dallies with boys instead of dollies. But the structural mechanics are classical—mistaken identity, chase scenes, a network of doors to open and slam…. McNally's basic problem is also classical: he has grasped the spirit but not the mechanical intricacies of farce—although a funnier, more serviceable set, and funnier, more personally inventive actors might have been a help. McNally's humor is genuine and often original; its farce outlets just aren't sufficiently mathematical, subtle, or imaginative to sustain what is still a very bright idea.

Marilyn Stasio, in Cue (copyright © 1974 by Cue Publications, Inc.), January 14, 1974, p. 17.

The non-stop hilarity of Terrence McNally's new pair of one-act comedies ["Bad Habits"] derives from his amused fascination with obsessive behavior. "Ravenswood" is a wacky sanatorium whose wacky director prescribes complete indulgence of such "bad habits" as drinking, smoking, and sexual promiscuity. The second play, "Dunelawn," shows us an equally daffy institution whose daffy director dictates complete abstention from all such practices. The two outlandish institutions accommodate almost every conceivable form of social neurotic, from a cherubic sado-masochist to a monumentally narcissistic show-biz couple…. Although both plays are casually structured, the character satire is dead-on accurate, and for all its zaniness has a niceness of logical clarity that is akin to classical farce.

Marilyn Stasio, in Cue (copyright © 1974 by Cue Publications, Inc.), February 11, 1974, p. 17.

Both [Ravenswood and Dunelaw, two one-acters produced under the program title, Bad Habits] go on a bit too long, and in both McNally succumbs to his chronic weakness, the inability to find the right ending. But this is not the amiably floundering McNally of Tommy Flowers and Whiskey; this is the McNally of Next and Noon, at his sick, mean, absurd yet purposive best, vicious crack topping vicious crack in the most demurely trotted-out fashion, like debutantes being presented at Court. For McNally, nothing has been desecrated enough not to deserve another friendly kick in the butt….

McNally, who was once Albee's protégé and disciple, has moved far beyond his now stagnating master, as if he had sucked him dry, and then some. You can call these plays unwholesome, inhuman—whatever you like—but not undazzling or unfunny.

John Simon, "No Regalia, No Regality," in New York Magazine (© 1974 by NYM Corp.; reprinted by permission of New York Magazine and John Simon), February 18, 1974, p. 78.

Terrence McNally is one of the most adept practitioners of the comedy of insult. His two one-act skits entitled Bad Habits are the best examples of his writing in this mode….

Both plays aim their shafts at institutions for the treatment of psychological disturbances—"encounter groups." The ills the patients suffer, McNally indicates, are more benign than their cure. Everyone has a right to his "disease," and both the desire to rid oneself of it and the methods employed to heal it are bogus.

I am stating this much more solemnly than McNally does. His plays are spoofs and at times quite funny….

There is, of course, a satiric element in these sketches which sustains and "justifies" them. But there is no real criticism in them: the grotesquerie of the jokes supersedes all. These, in turn, are based on a strain of generalized dislike. The undeclared "message" is: people are no damned good, so let's leave them alone to proceed on their own nasty way—which is, after all, our way! The bitterness inherent in this cannot be acknowledged; it is masked as fun and games. We laugh to free ourselves from what is implied.

Harold Clurman, in The Nation, March 2, 1974, p. 285.