Throughout his career, experimenting freely with style and technique, Terrence McNally has revealed a chameleonlike ability to adopt new comic guises. His earliest works, such as And Things That Go Bump in the Night and Next, reflect the influence of the Theater of the Absurd in their trenchant, black-humor ridiculing of a variety of social values and institutions. Moving toward a more sympathetic engagement in the plight of his characters, McNally has gradually muted his comic vision, producing plays such as The Lisbon Traviata and Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, which, though witty, are far more lyrical, sensitive, and forgiving.
McNally has been awarded two Guggenheim Fellowships and won an Obie Award (for Bad Habits in 1974) and an Emmy Award (for the teleplay André’s Mother in 1991). He received citations from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the National Institute for Arts and Letters for Achievement in Playwriting for The Ritz. He won the Tony Award for best book of a musical for both Kiss of the Spider Woman in 1993 and Ragtime in 1998. Love! Valour! Compassion! and Master Class won both the Tony Award and Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Play in 1995 and 1996, respectively. McNally also received a Pulitzer Prize nomination for A Perfect Ganesh in 1994. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and in 1981 became vice president of the Dramatists Guild.