"I like the title," insists a blissfully content Terrence McNally about his new play, Some Men. "Some men are gay. Some men aren't." No hidden meanings here. Simple. Direct.
His latest is a kaleidoscope kind of cavalcade of the gay experience in these United States (1923–2007), and it's framed in the present tense by How Far We've Come — namely by a same-sex wedding ceremony. It begins with "Do you take so-and-so?" and ends with "I do," and in between is the play proper — flashbacks of how the nine males in the room got there. Each has a story related to the gay life, be it AIDS or Stonewall. The earliest memory comes from Harlem of the 20's, when the great uncle of one guest ran a club.
Some women have taken their leave of Some Men in the ten months and 100 miles it took to get from the Philadelphia Theatre Company to New York's Second Stage on West 43rd. It seems the women were part of the original assignment: The producing artistic director of the Sundance Institute Theatre Lab — Philip Himberg, who directed the premiere production in Philadelphia — asked originally that McNally write a play about the relationship between gay men and divas.
"By 'divas,'" the playwright explains, "he meant the Judy Garlands and the Diana Rosses and the Barbra Streisands and the Liza Minnellis, and there was some of that in the work. Then, in Philadelphia, I realized that was not what the play was about. This is why plays go out of town — to get a look at what you've done, to find where the play truly is." McNally refocused, radically overhauled the play, reduced the original cast of ten by one, eliminated the two female characters but retained the drag role (played brilliantly in Philly by a glammed-up-the-gazoo John Glover, who, because of his "Smallville" TV commitment, relinquished the role to David Greenspan). Also newly on board is director Trip Cullman.
The wedding ceremony that bookends the play has a particular resonance for McNally, who is married to Tom Kirdahy, a public-interest lawyer-turning-Broadway producer.
"The issue of same-sex marriage is the final civil right — something I never even dreamed of as a young man," admits McNally. "How we all changed! I thought, growing up, a gay bar would always be something with painted windows down in a basement. Young people today don't know about looking around before darting down a flight of stairs to Lenny's Hideaway on 4th Street off Seventh Avenue. There was an element of danger in being gay. Now, gay life has changed incredibly in this country — in my lifetime — and I was part of that change. I've enjoyed looking back at how I got to be someone who proudly wears a wedding ring. I'm legally married in Vermont — not in this state — for three years."
But he even sees a light at the end of the tunnel on this homefront. "Absolutely! I feel it will happen in my lifetime. The right lawyers will argue the case. Slowly but surely, it will end up at the Supreme Court, and, as a civil right, it cannot be argued against. It's a civil right that was unthinkable 30 years ago. It was enough to be able to go to a gay bar.
"Minority groups have always been very slow to realize they have rights. Whenever I see historical movies, I see all these peasants and serfs and think, 'What are you doing? Kill Marie Antoinette!' People think we can't do anything, that this is our lot in life. We are a gay minority so our relationships are not as good. We don't even deserve legal protection."
After three years of marriage, McNally is still mellow on that subject. "I've become quite an advocate of marriage," he admits. "I think it really raises the quality of a relationship, and I've been sorta proselytizing about it with my gay friends. They literally say, 'If you're going to talk about getting married, shut up!' But, because of us, two of our straight-couple friends have gotten married. One couple has been together almost 30 years — the other, like, 12 — and they both say that it's the best thing that they ever did."
Because of his confessed bias, he tried to keep his personal views out of his play as best he could. "There are people who don't want to get married in the play, too. Not everyone argues to do that. It's certainly not, I hope, a preaching-to-the-converted play. There are very complex people in it, and there are real issues that they argue about in the play.
"I still think homophobia is an issue in our society. You can make it legal for two men to get married. Will that be the end of homophobia? No. The walls are quietly coming down, and I hope this pushes them down even more, but you also want a gay audience to say, 'Yes, that's accurate. These are still issues in our society.' The play addresses promiscuity and unsafe sex — both very much a part of gay culture — so no one is presented as 'gay is good. These people are higher-evolved creatures than anyone else on the planet.' No, this is gay, warts and all — but with humor and compassion and intelligence.
"I think the first job of a play is to keep the audience entertained. 'Engaged' doesn't mean lightweight. King Lear, Three Sisters and Death of a Salesman are very entertaining plays because you're engaged. I want this play to entertain audiences — make them think and feel. You have to change people's hearts before you can change people's minds."