"When I came to New York, I saw every play for $2.90," playwright Terrence McNally recalled about his first theatregoing experiences as a resident of the Big Apple. "I remember the price vividly. It was the last row of the balcony, but it was available to me."
The prolific and award-winning playwright soon moved from the balcony to backstage when he began a lengthy career in playwriting. A four-time Tony Award winner, McNally has also been honored with an Emmy Award, two Guggenheim Fellowships, a Rockefeller Grant, the Lucille Lortel Award, the Hull-Warriner Award and a citation from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He currently has one work — And Away We Go — in performance at the classical theatre company the Pearl Theater, and another, Mothers and Sons, on its way to Broadway, beginning performances at the Golden Theatre Feb. 23, 2014.
McNally, whose plays include The Ritz, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune and Love! Valour! Compassion!, was commissioned by the Pearl to write a new work, an invitation he was "really tickled" to receive. The play follows a group of six actors performing 36 different roles and presenting various works of drama. The work travels through time, beginning with the Greeks before moving to Jacobean England; France on the eve of a revolution; Moscow; and America, during the premiere of Waiting for Godot.
"It's very much written for the Pearl, the company that has kept the faith for the great classic plays," McNally said of And Away We Go. "There are whole seasons in New York when I don't think a single classic play would have been performed if it hadn't been for the Pearl... I think it's really important. I write new plays for a living; I certainly don't think theatre should be revivals, but there has always got to be a place for Chekhov, Ibsen, Shakespeare, Moliere and Aeschylus. Just as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Opera exist to preserve the best of the past, I think it's important that these institutions do new operas and show new painters and other theatres present new plays, so it's all a continuum and an important one."
And Away We Go does not include any scenes of the plays its characters perform; instead it offers a look at life backstage and behind-the-scenes.
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