Terrence McNally McNally, Terrence (Vol. 7)

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McNally, Terrence (Vol. 7)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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McNally, Terrence 1939–

McNally, an American playwright whose biting comedies have been produced on Broadway and off Broadway, feels that most contemporary dramatists, including himself, employ "a kind of fairytale quality to frame today's ideas, problems, issues." (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 45-58.)

Terrence McNally … had better beware of moths, for his mind is pure wool. The thoughts of this playwriting youth are the fashionably wrong wrong thoughts about Nuclear Apocalypse, the Bitch Mother, the Castrated Male, the Homosexual Martyr, and the Dehumanization of Everyone. The result [And Things That Go Bump in the Night] is one of those off-bleat stupefactions that make the modern stage look like the queerest wing of a nuthouse. (p. 88)

The play's plot and characters are assembled from the Kopit-Albee playmaking kit. Bump's grandfather is the peppery and frustrated duplicate of the grandmother in Edward Albee's The Sandbox. The silent father is a variation on Albee's laconic, spiritless father in The American Dream. Mother is the voracious woman of Arthur Kopit's Oh Dad, Poor Dad, in fright wigs à la Tiny Alice…. And the mortal baiting of the homosexual in Bump follows the cruelly bantering tone and logic of the venomous get-the-guests game in Virginia Woolf. The effect is worse than theatrical incest: it is rather like spreading disease in the guise of curing corruption. (p. 89)

"Juvenilia in a Fright Wig," in Time (reprinted by permission from Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine; copyright Time Inc.), May 7, 1965, pp. 88-9.

And Things That Go Bump in the Night dropped on Broadway with an empty thud. While this dissolute outpouring of nightmarish ectoplasm, made even more exasperating by its capricious detours into cuteness, does not deserve a much better fate, the play is not unprovocative. For Mr. McNally has a talent for imagery and an ambitiousness of purpose, which he frequently displays in his parable about modern society and the atom bomb. It is a promising notion to represent this society by a sadistic family that lives in an underground bomb shelter and is nightly faced with the alternative of humiliating a guest or being vicious to each other. And it is savagely dramatic to watch the torture of a Christlike homosexual visitor, whose eventual electric crucifixion does not deter these selfish people in their determination to survive the holocaust we hear exploding outside at the final curtain. However, in his debut Mr. McNally appears to lack the discipline or skill necessary to achieve his devastatingly large intention. (p. 24)

Henry Hewes, in Saturday Review (copyright © 1965 by Saturday Review, Inc.; reprinted with permission), May 15, 1965.

The present position of homosexual drama is unsatisfactory to just about everybody. The playwrights concerned are obliged, for obvious reasons, to disguise their themes and to present them, by implication, at least, as studies in "straight" behavior. The critics for equally obvious reasons are prevented from pointing this out (few of us would want to play the Marquis of Queensberry in a revival), at least in so many words. The result is a good deal of hissing venom on both sides: the critic taunting the playwright to declare himself—although to do so would clearly be suicidal; the playwright resenting, not unreasonably, the vindictive, and sometimes feline, reviews that the critic's frustration works itself off in.

I should like therefore to suggest a working hypothesis that might help toward breaking this log-jam: namely, that we have now had enough of these crypto-homosexual plays for homosexuality to have become part of the prevailing style, and that it is now possible to discuss a theater of homosexual sensibility without imputing homosexuality to any given playwright. The middle- (or writing) class traditionally gets much of its experience at second-hand and it is not uncommon for young playwrights to think they are writing about life when they are only writing about other plays. If...

(The entire section is 4,076 words.)