After just celebrating the birthdays of theater giants, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim while the world deals with a pandemic, theater lovers are now mourning the loss of four-time Tony Award-winning playwright, Terrence McNally. He passed away due to complications brought on by the COVID19 virus. The loss to the world of American Theater is deeply felt.
I discovered Terrence McNally later in life. Not being formally trained as a thespian has given me the opportunity to learn about many things in and about theater through the joy of living, learning, and Google. Shortly after coming out of the closet in the 90’s, I was doing improv comedy in Austin, Texas, and there was a guy on our team who used to mimic Rita Moreno’s Tony Award© winning character, Googie Gomez from The Ritz. As I was slowly learning about gay culture, this gem was brought to my attention. I was not familiar with that part of the lifestyle just yet, but my Texas eyes were opening to a life that fear was no longer going to keep me from living.
As I started to learn more about him and his exodus from Texas to New York City in the late 50’s, I realized that there was a little bit of his story in mine. Imagine discovering that you are gay in South Texas during the 50’s? I mean it sucked for me, but in Austin during the early 90’s, it was a little bit safer because more of us were out of the closet. We did the same thing by leaving our humble beginnings in Texas for a better life to redefine and reinvent ourselves personally, creatively, and professionally. Through his work, Mr. McNally gave a voice to many of us in a way that we did not even know that we needed. He brought plenty of his own personal pain into his work.
I met him only twice. The first time was at a NYC Heritage of Pride Rally. I was an out comedian making my debut at the highest profile gay event of my career at that time, and Mr. McNally and I were on the bill. I was so nervous because by this time, I knew he created Googie Gomez.
My friend, Angela came with me. She is in the biz and very savvy. Between running my set over and over in my head, fixating that Mr. McNally is only ten feet away from me, and holding back anxiety and pit sweat, I felt great. I kept running back to Angela saying , “OMG it’s Terrence Mcnally. I want to talk to him, but I am too nervous.” And with the same tone as the conversation between Lorell and Effie in Dreamgirls right before “MOVE” , Angela asks me “Are both of your pictures on the same page of the PRIDE magazine?” I said, “yes.” She further pushed, “Are your guest badges the same color?” I said , “yes”, and she said, “Then shut up and go talk to him, you BOTH are invited guests.” I took her advice, and I gushed a little. I walked over to him and introduced myself. He was so kind to me.