Terrence McNally McNally, Terrence (Vol. 91) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Terrence McNally Love! Valour! Compassion!

Awards: Tony Award for Best Play, New York Drama Critics Award for Best New American Play, OBIE Award for Playwriting, Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play, and Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Play.

Born in 1939, McNally is an American playwright.

For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 4, 7, and 41.

Love! Valour! Compassion! (1994) is about gay life in America and the search for true love and happiness. The play unfolds at Gregory's summerhouse in upstate New York over three holiday weekends: Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day. The eight male characters alternately narrate the events of the weekends, each from his own perspective. The characters relate experiences from their relationships as well as the ways in which they deal with the effects of the AIDS epidemic. Favorably assessed as a ground-breaking work about gay life, Love! Valour! Compassion! has been compared to Mart Crowley's play about a group of homosexual men, The Boys in the Band (1969), as well as to the works of Thornton Wilder, Eugene O'Neill, and Anton Chekhov. While a few critics have suggested that the drama's themes are not well developed and that it relies too heavily on frank sexual humor and nudity, most agree with David Kaufman who wrote that McNally's "play refutes many myths regarding a gay lifestyle: above all by demonstrating that there can be more love—and yes, courage and compassion—within an extended family than many nuclear ones possess."

Principal Works

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Roller Coaster (drama) 1960
There Is Something Out There (drama) 1962; revised as And Things That Go Bump in the Night, 1964
The Lady of the Camellias [adaptor; from Giles Cooper's dramatic adaptation of the novel and play La Dame aux camélias (1848 and 1852) by Alexandre Dumas fils] (drama) 1963
Next (drama) 1967
Tour (drama) 1967
Apple Pie: Three One-Act Plays (drama) 1968
Botticelli (television play) 1968
¡Cuba Si! (drama) 1968
Here's Where I Belong (drama) 1968

Noon (drama) 1968
Sweet Eros (drama) 1968
Witness (drama) 1968
Bringing It All Back Home (drama) 1969
Last Gasps (television play) 1969
Bad Habits: Ravenswood and Dunelawn (drama) 1971
Where Has Tommy Flowers Gone? (drama) 1971
Let It Bleed (drama) 1972
Whiskey (drama) 1973
The Tubs (drama) 1974; revised as The Ritz, 1975
The Golden Age (drama) 1975
The Ritz (screenplay) 1977
Broadway, Broadway (drama) 1979
The 5:48 [adaptor; from the short story by John Cheever] (television play) 1979
The Lisbon Traviata (radio play) 1979; adapted for the stage in 1985
It's Only a Play: A Comedy (drama) 1982
The Rink: A New Musical (drama) 1984
Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune (drama) 1987
Andre's Mother (television play) 1990
Frankie and Johnny (screenplay) 1991
Kiss of the Spider Woman [adaptor; from the Manuel Puig novel] (drama) 1992
Lips Together, Teeth Apart (drama) 1992
A Perfect Ganesh (drama) 1993
Terrence McNally: 15 Short Plays (drama) 1994
Love! Valour! Compassion! (drama) 1994

∗These works were collectively published as The Ritz, and Other Plays (1969).

†These works were collectively published as Sweet Eros, Next, and Other Plays (1969).

‡This work includes Tour, Next, and Botticelli.

John Simon (review date 14 November 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Saucy! Schmaltzy! Slow Moving!," in New York Magazine, Vol. 27, No. 45, November 14, 1994, pp. 79-80.

[In the following excerpt, Simon reviews Love! Valour! Compassion!, examining the play's reliance on sexual humor and contending that the themes are poorly developed.]

When, over three centuries ago, John Dryden initiated heroic drama, he declared that "love and valour ought to be the subject of it." To this program, Terrence McNally has added compassion and three exclamation points. Thus we get Love! Valour! Compassion!, a long play about three long weekends (Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day). Encapsulating the lives of eight homosexuals, two of them played by the same actor, it means to be memorable, forthcoming, a labor of love.

The locale is an isolated Dutchess County lakeside summer house, where Gregory, a famous but fading choreographer, is struggling with a new ballet while also planning a drag version of Swan Lake for an AIDS benefit. His lover, the blind and boyish Bobby, is seduced by the naughty Hispanic dancer Ramon, who is the boyfriend of John Jeckyll, a nasty British rehearsal pianist, who hides a Hyde just under his skin. His twin, James, however, is the sweetest of dithering queens, liked by everybody, but dying of AIDS. The gang's cutup is HIV-positive Buzz, who designs costumes for Gregory. Fat, loverless, and yearning, Buzz is a wizard at musical-comedy trivia and a wellspring of campy jokes. Representing non-show business are Arthur and Perry, an accountant and a laywer, married to each other for fourteen years. Perry is the raisonneur of the group, though he is scarcely less campy than Buzz.

These are not wholly carefree holidays. Ramon's fling with Bobby stirs up trouble for himself with the vindictive John, and for Bobby with the heartbroken Gregory. Even the motherly Arthur evinces a yen for Ramon, especially when, both naked, they share a raft on the lake. Tempers flare and taunts are taunted....

(The entire section is 842 words.)

Nancy Franklin (review date 14 November 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "McNally Men, Wasserstein Women," in The New Yorker, Vol. LXX, No. 37, November 14, 1994, pp. 129-31.

[In the following excerpt, Franklin favorably reviews Love! Valour! Compassion!, focusing on the play's structure, characters, and themes.]

The eight characters in Terrence McNally's new play, Love! Valour! Compassion! (terrible! title!), which just opened at his longtime theatrical home, the Manhattan Theatre Club, all happen to be gay, but they connect in ways that almost any nuclear family would envy. Most of them have a long history with each other—they have slept together, roomed together, worked together—and their relationships are rich and resonant. This is no uncomplicated idyll, though: some real ugliness comes out in the course of the play, and there are a number of betrayals, large and small. Yet in this beautifully written work McNally and his actors, under the direction of Joe Mantello, present humbling evidence of what human love is and can be.

The play is set in and around a house in the country in upstate New York on the three holiday weekends that punctuate the summer, and the three acts are punctuated by the men singing, in a-cappella harmony, songs from bygone days—"Beautiful Dreamer," "In the Good Old Summertime," and "Shine On, Harvest Moon." Gregory (Stephen Bogardus), a dancer, whose house we are in, addresses the audience and speaks with pride of his home, which was built in the early years of this century—the "golden age of American housebuilding." At the end of the play, the men, swimming naked in a lake, call up the image of a famous American painting, Eakins' "The Swimming Hole." The feeling of timelessness that imbues this play cuts both ways: as we're absorbing the lulling thought that there were others here before us and there will be others here after us, we're struck sharply by its unavoidable corollary—that we won't be here forever.

Early on, we're told outright that one of the guests, Buzz, who does costumes for Gregory's dance company, won't be here forever: he's H.I.V.-positive. But Buzz himself...

(The entire section is 884 words.)

Frank Scheck (review date 15 November 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Uncommon Women Ages Poorly, McNally's Latest Has Its Strengths," in The Christian Science Monitor, November 15, 1994, p. 14.

[In the following excerpt, Scheck favorably reviews the character development, staging techniques, and performances in Love! Valour! Compassion!, while faulting the play's lack of "real dramatic structure or plot."]

There's love, valour, and compassion aplenty in Terrence McNally's play, which has opened Off Broadway to the strongest reviews so far this season. There's also plenty of darker emotions. No contemporary playwright is as effective in blending high comedy with pathos, in giving us characters that will make you laugh and break your heart.

McNally's impact on both the New York stage and in Hollywood films is considerable. He is adept at creating emotional balancing acts.

In his screenplay for the 1991 film Frankie and Johnny, which starred Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer, he paired an unlikely short-order cook with an emotionally withdrawn waitress. In the book for the musical version of Kiss of the Spider Woman, McNally juxtaposed a political revolutionary's single-mindedness against the escapism of his homosexual cellmate. His most recent Off Broadway hit was Lips Together, Teeth Apart, which pitted two mismatched married couples against one another.

Love! Valour!...

(The entire section is 504 words.)

David Kaufman (review date 19 December 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Love! Valour! Compassion!, in The Nation, New York, Vol. 259, No. 21, December 19, 1994, pp. 774-76.

[In the following favorable review, Kaufman examines the themes, characters, and plot development in Love! Valour! Compassion!]

"You show me a happy homosexual and I'll show you a gay corpse." Though it was supposed to be sardonic, this tragic line from The Boys in the Band has acquired a grim, unintended meaning long after it was uttered by a gay character in 1968, a year before the Stonewall uprising. Generally perceived as the first "homosexual play"—as opposed to merely being a play about homosexuals—Mart Crowley's drama was...

(The entire section is 2047 words.)

Stefan Karfér (review date 13 February 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Love! Valour! Compassion!, in The New Leader, Vol. LXVIII, No. 2, February 13, 1995, p. 23.

[In the following mixed review of Love! Valour! Compassion!, Karfér states that "McNally shows little originality or audacity."]

The progress and regress of homosexual life is usually left to the political propagandists on either side. You can get a more accurate (and less shrill) summary by comparing two comedies, staged 25 years apart.

In 1969, Mart Crowley's The Boys in the Band featured a group of nine gay men in the crosscurrents of professional and social life. Some were tragic, some funny, some faithful, some...

(The entire section is 748 words.)

Howard Kissel (review date 15 February 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Love! Valour! Compassion!, in National Theatre Critic's Review, Vol. LVI, No. 3, 1995.

[In the following review, Kissel favorably assesses Love! Valour! Compassion!]

To a certain extent, the history of New York theater in the last decade has been the history of gay theater. Terrence McNally's Love! Valour! Compassion! which has made the journey from Manhattan Theater Club to the Walter Kerr with all its virtues intact, is a key moment in that history.

Unlike many recent gay plays, whose tone was accusatory and shrill, Love is not a political statement. It documents the moment when the word "gay," which used to...

(The entire section is 334 words.)

Vincent Canby (review date 15 February 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Love! Hits Broadway Running Like a Broadway Hit," in The New York Times, February 15, 1995, pp. C9, C12.

[Canby is a highly acclaimed theater critic for The New York Times. In the following favorable review, he applauds the structure, plot, and characters of Love! Valour! Compassion!]

The Manhattan Theater Club's production of Terrence McNally's Love! Valour! Compassion! was enthusiastically received when it opened Off Broadway in November. At that time even its admirers, including me, could not have dreamed that this proudly gay play stood a chance of becoming a mainstream hit.

That seems a distinct possibility now that...

(The entire section is 1089 words.)

Jeremy Gerard (review date 20 February 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Love! Valour! Compassion!, in Variety, February 20, 1995, p. 84.

[In the following favorable review, Gerard discusses the humor and pathos in Love! Valour! Compassion!]

Terrence McNally's play arrives on Broadway with one major cast change, but otherwise, Love! Valour! Compassion! makes a smooth transition from the Manhattan Theater Club's City Center Stage I, where it opened mostly to acclaim in November, to Broadway's Walter Kerr Theater. Produced under the reduced costs/reduced ticket prices Broadway Alliance plan, the play looks like an attractive box office player and a shoo-in for all the top awards nominations.


(The entire section is 537 words.)

Robert Brustein (review date 3 April 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Aspects of Love and Compassion," in The New Republic, Vol. 212, No. 14, April 3, 1995, pp. 30-2.

[Brustein is an actor, director, theater critic, and author of several books about acting and the social responsibilities of the theater. In the following excerpt, he reviews Love! Valour! Compassion!, faulting its plot, characterizations, and themes as examples of "Yuppie Realism."]

I'm still disappointed in the direction of McNally's career…. Love! Valour! Compassion! is simply another example of what, in reviewing his Lips Together, Teeth Apart, I called Yuppie Realism, a genre that focuses "on upwardly mobile middle-class professionals,...

(The entire section is 784 words.)