On Wednesday, Nov. 3, family, friends, neighbors, and theatre folk honored the life and work of renowned playwright Terrence McNally outside his apartment building at 29 E. 9th St.
Terrence McNally could be called one of the most important dramatists of the last 50 years and died March 24, 2020 in Sarasota, Florida from Covid complications. He was 81.
The Historic Landmarks Preservation Center hosted the sidewalk ceremony at the building he called home, the gathering spilling into the street. In true New York fashion, the program often competed with street noise.
McNally wrote prolifically for the theatre leaving an opus— some three dozen plays, the books for 10 musicals, librettos for four operas, and screenplays for film and television.
He was a multi-Tony award winner—two were the books for musicals, Kiss of the Spiderwoman (1995) and Ragtime 1998, and two plays, Love! Valour! Compassion! (1995), about gay men who share a vacation house, and Master Class (1996).
His first Broadway play was Things That Go Bump in the Night (1965).
Borough President Gale Brewer thanked BarbaraLee Diamonstein Spiel-Vogel, creator of the Cultural Medallion program, acknowledging what a wonderful preservationist she is…. “(She is) often way ahead of us in terms of where are the landmarks for cultural history and commemorating them and knowing who the great New Yorkers are.”
BP Brewer then presented the family a Proclamation acknowledging McNally’s thriving–over six decades career, with works routinely performed all over the world. His plays often dealt with race, gender and sexual orientation. In 2019, he received a Tony for Lifetime Achievement.
Born in Florida, his fondness for New York made him a New Yorker at heart. BP Brewer declared Nov. 3, 2021 Terrence McNally Day in the Borough of Manhattan.
McNally’s friend Tyne Daly made brief remarks, followed by his husband, Tom Kirdahy, a Tony and Oliver Award winning producer. “This is immersive theatre,” quipped his Kirdahy as a street sweeper interrupted the audio.
Kirdahy listed many of McNally’s loves. “He loved the people (of New York) and theatre the most.” Continuing, “He loved living in this building. He loved walking his dog in Washington Square Park and soaking in the gorgeous parade of humanity in the park and where no doubt he found inspiration for his plays. Home was always a sanctuary for us….a safe place to write.
He had chronicled a pandemic (AIDS) and in a cruel bit of traumatic irony a pandemic took him out (COVID). His work lives on in the plays, musicals, operas, and lives of the countless people touched and changed from the deep emotional truths of his work.”
After a civil union in Vermont, Kirdahy and McNally legally wed in New York in 2010, and renewed their vows at City Hall officiated by Tom’s college roommate, Mayor DeBlasio.
To the right of the building’s doorway, Kirdahy unveiled the red Cultural Medallion. Within a condensed version of the playwright’s history it read: “Just four years later (after graduating Columbia), he made his Broadway debut as a playwright. Though unsuccessful, the play boldly explored gay themes, rare at the time and foreshadowed his most important works, written during the AIDS crisis.”
Wrapping up the preliminaries, Brian Stokes Mitchell (who was in Kiss of the Spider Woman) belted his baritone voice the song The Quest (from Man of La Mancha, also referred to as The Impossible Dream). Mitchell explained that the song was about the journey and that was what Terrance McNally was about. Then, McNally’s husband Tom Kirdahy unveiled the Medallion and filled with emotion gave the symbol a kiss.