The following is a reprinted excerpt of an interview with playwright Terrence McNally conducted by Jerry Portwood for OUT Magazine.


terrence-webThe message that remains at the core of most of playwright Terrence McNally’s work is that people must continue to change and evolve so that society may survive. McNally says he wanted to write about this “new world we live in” after a stage revival of his Emmy-winning 1990 teleplay, Andre’s Mother was proposed and he realized how radically the world had changed within his lifetime.

So does it matter if we don’t know the play Andre’s Mother? Have never seen it?

It doesn’t matter at all. It’s not a sequel to Andre’s Mother. Jed [Bernstein] asked me if he could do Andre’s Mother with Tyne [at Bucks County Playhouse].  She’s a great actress, and they were going to do the teleplay, which won an Emmy when it was televised on PBS.

But when I re-read it, I realized so much has happened in the past 25 years. Why re-visit the past when I had the opportunity to write a new play for a great actress? I jumped at it. Andre’s Mother is a character in both plays but the similarity begins and ends there. In the original, she is silent. Now she has a lot to say for herself. It’s the same confrontation, only 25 years later. The world has changed.

Tell me about the title. It made me recall D.H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers. What is it about mothers and sons that is so powerful?

It seemed to be the right title for it. I was aware of the other one [by Lawrence], but this sounds more primordial, about the basic need men have for their mothers. Cal never knew his mother and he wanted Katharine to hold him that day at his lover’s memorial service. She’s a mother, and she can’t help but blame this stranger for taking her son Andre from her. If her son hadn’t met Cal, she thinks he would have been straight. He definitely would be alive.

You’re known for writing moving narratives that focused on the destruction of AIDS on friends and families. How have things changed since those days? There seems to be more optimism in this play.

AIDS certainly transformed the lives of all Americans but especially gay men and women. Life keeps evolving. We have to change. Life deals us some really bad things, such as AIDS, but we emerge different people, stronger than before. That’s one thing that’s great about the way we live our lives. The little boy in the play, too, is going to change the world. He already has by being the son of two legally married men. We see that the world is going to go on without us. People, a thousand years from now, they will have evolved into a whole other order.

Are you surprised by all the things that happened last year and continue to happen for marriage equality?

My play Some Men was reviewed as a “what if” play. “What if” men will be able to be married one day? And Some Men isn’t even 10 years old! Marriage equality was defeated so roundly in Albany that year, I thought, Gee, I better write about it.  Actually, I went to Vermont first and entered into a civil union with the man who is now my husband. Then I wrote Some Men, which had its world premiere at the Philadelphia Theatre Company. But, no, I’m not surprised, I’m happy that there’s been such incredible change in our lives, for all of us.

When I came to New York at 17, I went to Columbia and if you were gay, you kept it to yourself. There were other gay students, but most of the gay men I knew were living in the Village. You’d go down these dark little streets to dark little bars, often in basements, all of them fire traps.. We are such a long way from those dark dangerous days. It’s hard to believe.

But the Supreme Court decision striking down DOMA is barely a year old. The real impact hasn’t really sunk into the national consciousness yet. There have been enormous changes about how people thought and viewed gay relationships for hundreds and hundreds of years. It’s not going to change overnight.

I wonder, is this play a revenge play or ultimately about forgiveness?

Katharine does want revenge, as she says at one point in the play. But I think it’s about forgiveness and trying to understand. I wanted to know what makes a Katharine a Katharine. It’s about generations and family. It was more challenging for me to write a character like Will who is a very young man than Cal or Katharine who are both closer to me in age and experience.

There are four generations in this play, and the youngest, Bud, accepts Katharine right away. He hasn’t been taught, as the son of two gay men, you’re not supposed to like people like her. I do think there’s healing and forgiveness in this play. There was for me in writing it. I can’t imagine that there’s not at least one character that someone isn’t going to identify with.

I know you got married, so you basically think the marriage equality fight is the most important thing at the moment?

When you’re married, that gives you an equality, which is also a responsibility; you really have to take your full place in the world and in our own communities. You can’t hide out anymore. Before we thought, We’re gay and we don’t have to be interested in who’s going to be school superintendent. And now, there’s no excuse not to be in the middle of all these fights. It’s leveled the playing field, this marriage right, that’s for sure. Much more than anything else has. Of course homophobia still exists. We still have racism. A stroke of the legislative pen does not do away with prejudices. But there’s no legislation that denies the rights of people with color. You have to change the laws first. That’s paramount. Same with gay men and women. You don’t have to like us but you do have to give us our rights, the same as yours.

But there’s still racism. I grew up in a South with separate drinking fountains. It’s hard to remember such a time. So much has changed in the 75 years that I’ve been conscious. It’s all wonderful, these changes. We need more.