Terrence McNally

Terrence McNally, one of America’s great playwrights, died Tuesday of complications from the coronavirus at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

SARASOTA — Sarasota Memorial Hospital announced Tuesday afternoon that it has nine patients with confirmed COVID-19 at its facilities — and two others have died — both with the coronavirus as the cause or suspected cause.

“SMH continues to assess and send samples for COVID-19 testing for patients based on CDC guidance and priorities/capacity of the labs in our state,” SMH spokeswoman Kim Savage said.

Of the dead, “one of the patients tested presumptively positive for COVID-19; the other was a patient with suspected COVID-19 whose test results remain pending.

“On behalf of the hospital and the clinical team dedicated to caring for these patients, we extend our deepest sympathies to their families and friends,” said Sarasota Memorial CEO David Verinder. “It is a sad and sobering reality to see the effects of this virus across the world, and now in our own community, but our team stands united and prepared to fight this together.”

One of the dead is Terrence McNally, 81.

The name of the second person was unavailable.

The Associated Press called McNally one of America’s great playwrights, winning Tony Awards for the plays “Love! Valour! Compassion!” and “Master Class” and the musicals “Ragtime” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” has died of complications from the coronavirus.

Jeffery Kin, manager of The Players theater in Saraosta, said Tuesday McNally had a big impact on its theater.

“His plays always had so much heart but also so much humor,” Kin said. “It is easy to pull a heart string but much harder to get a laugh … McNally could do both.”

Venice Theatre’s Director of Diversity Kristofer Geddie said his theater has had “The Full Monty” and “Master Class,” both of which McNally wrote.

Vencie Theatre did “Ragtime” twice, as well, the show that first brought Geddie to Venice Theater.

“He definitely had a big career,” Geddie said.

McNally was a lung cancer survivor who lived with chronic inflammatory lung disease.

His plays and musicals explored how people connect — or fail to. With wit and thoughtfulness, he tackled the strains in families, war, and relationships and probed the spark and costs of creativity. He was an openly gay writer who wrote about homophobia, love and AIDS.

“I like to work with people who are a lot more talented and smarter than me, who make fewer mistakes than I do, and who can call me out when I do something lazy,” he told LA Stage Times in 2013. “A lot of people stop learning in life, and that’s their tragedy.”

McNally also explored gay themes in the book for the musical “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” for which he won his first Tony Award.

In 2018, McNally was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He won four Tonys and an Emmy. New York University gave him an honorary doctorate in 2019.

McNally was born in St. Petersburg, and grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas.

McNally’s first Broadway play “And Things That Go Bump in the Night” didn’t fare much better in 1965.

He rebounded with the 1969 off-Broadway hit “Next,” a two-character comedy about a reluctant draftee reporting for an Army physical. A string of successes followed, including “Where Has Tommy Flowers Gone?” (1971), “The Tubs” (1974), “Bad Habits” (1974) and “The Ritz” (1975), a farce set in a gay bathhouse that ran more than a year on Broadway and became McNally’s first produced screenplay.

His breakout, “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune,” about a romance between a waitress and short order cook, was later adapted into a film starring Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer.

He collaborated three times with legendary composer John Kander and lyricist Freb Ebb — on “The Rink,” “Kiss of the Spider Woman” and “The Visit.” Chita Rivera starred in all three.

His love of opera informed his works “Golden Age,” “The Lisbon Traviata” and “Master Class,” which explored the life of opera diva Maria Callas. He also contributed to opera as a librettist — “The Food of Love” in 1999 with music by Robert Beaser, “Dead Man Walking” in 2000 with music by Jake Heggie, and 2015’s “Great Scott” with Heggie.

McNally sometimes was controversial, especially with his play “Corpus Christi,” which depicts a modern-day Jesus as a homosexual. The Manhattan Theater Club, the first company to consider staging it, received death threats and temporarily canceled the production before enjoying a successful run.

When picking up his “Ragtime” Tony Award, McNally thanked the theater community for its outcry.

“You came together when I was in trouble. It was a time of oppression. You came together overnight. Our voices were heard, and we won.” Holding his Tony high, he said, “So this is for freedom. Thank you.”


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