The Theater of Terrence McNally: A Critical Study


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This is apparent in the theatrical devices deployed by the plays. This gaping void threatens a normative structure by preventing the main actions from taking place center stage. This could symbolize the absence of a center to a plot that otherwise seems to roughly follow realistic conventions. This attack on the canonical structure involves staging a dangerous zone where AIDS is felt to be thriving and menacing the two straight couples hovering around it.

AIDS is not only lethal to the body but it is also a threat to the very meaning of science and a potential destructive force of our understanding of the world —mirroring the status of gays and lesbians from the point of view of the censors but also the conflation of AIDS with homosexuality. AIDS is a threat that embodies the fear of contamination, as it stands for the potential breakdown of the body, of knowledge, in other words for breaking down the subject.

The Theater of Terrence McNally A Critical Study

This reaction is so radical because it is at the heart of what holds a belief system together — hence the cohesion of society and the subject. The play is a retelling of the life of Jesus Christ in the s and s in the town of Corpus Christi, Texas, through the experience of Joshua, who must survive homophobia and become a messiah spreading the message of love to his disciples and to the rest of the world. By bringing a gay discourse into the Christian narrative, the play questions the normative meaning supported by most Christians.

It not only questions the rejection of homosexuality, but also raises the question of interpretation within the religious world and the mechanism of power that establishes the meaning of the Word. The travesty of the gospel treating the sacred story in a lowbrow style clashes violently with literal readers and followers of the scriptures. In fact, the transposition of the sacred scriptures on stage has always been a touchy affair under tight control of churches. The association of male homosexuality with a disease like AIDS or with religion Christianity underscores that homosexuality, or rather its various representations, has been constructed as a sign threatening the boundaries of the healthy religious subject.

However, in the cultural contexts of the late twentieth century the danger does not seem to apply equally to all subjects in the United States. The mechanism of subject formation is not, in the case of the representation of homosexuality, enforced by a national institution but by a marginal group of Christian fundamentalists. Even though they tend to represent the larger Christian Right and the social conservatives, the threat posed by plays altering the coherence of their subjectivity does not seem to apply to all subject formation.

It does not mean that this invalidates the idea that censorship is a general mechanism in subject formation, but that it applies differently according to various subjects. Hence, censorship is not a totalizing process as it does not create the same boundaries in each subject. This explains that Lips Together, Teeth Apart and Corpus Christi could be performed in different areas of the United States and encounter contradictory reactions.

The fact that the plays were not really examined by their most radical opponents, as I have argued above, supports the idea that censorship had turned the plays into something unreadable and invisible for the censors. Yet, was it the same for those who took into consideration the performances or the scripts? The critics did not respond so much to the staging or the meaning of the play as to the expectations raised by censors. And, indeed, Corpus Christi more or less accurately follows the Gospels the Nativity, the Sermon on the Mount, and the Last Supper mixed with elements of his personal autobiography — the title synthesizes the religious and the personal by evoking the town where the playwright grew up.

His reflections on theatricality is what censorship tended to destroy. Indeed, Corpus Christi played with theatrical conventions to challenge fixed representations. The symbolic role the actors is ritualized through the actual baptism and christening of each actor. The complexity of that suspension of disbelief is suggested especially by the transition of the actor performing his character.

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Simon was a singer. Indeed, does the actor really perform himself or a character who would be an actor? And even if he performs himself, what does it reveal about his subjectivity? Which one of his selves is he performing? By asserting the impossibility of knowing for sure, the play articulates this crucial distance between the political and the artistic discourse, which had been erased by censorship.

I mean Thomas is an actor.

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What is particularly relevant, as I argued earlier, is that censorship operated a renegotiation of the play into another discourse, a discourse that exceeded the play. This process was both the result of the external censorship of the censor and of the internal censorship as the play became a threat for the subject. Here, this mechanism is echoed by the theatrical game that emerges from a mix of a religious ritual and a theatrical one.

The play intends to defuse resistance or, even, censorship on the part of an audience that could not accept the choice of the author and might consider his play as sacrilegious. This game with identities as roles is all the more striking as each actor performs several characters, except for Joshua and Judas. This creates a sense of perspective, and, at best, a critical distance. Similarly, the sacred narrative is often deflated by comedy as in the birth of Joshua in a cheap motel while the couple next door are having loud sex — it is a travesty after all. Moreover, some references to current famous Broadway shows are supposed to be included in the play depending on its time of production.

The comedy, however, is sometimes filled with tragedy as the evocation of AIDS turns the benevolent bodies into deathly vehicles. Whether the play can achieve it is the very question that censors have tried to silence and that this paper has aimed at reopening. This is the result of a discursive struggle triggered by the fact that censorship is really to be thought of as a process dealing with the unacceptable — things that should be repressed in the social subconscious.

Indeed, censorship through the arts emerges from plays scrambling the categories which uphold a specific narration of the subject and its representation. The plays and the censorship they faced show that these categories are not fixed and predetermined but rise from internal and external constraints.

The latter ran into problems not so much because of the venue where it was produced, even though the Manhattan Theatre Club, through its funding system, was an easy target for protests, but because of its sacrilegious nature within the cultural domains of religion and conservative politics.


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In a sense, censorship, rather than being seen as something good or bad, has to be understood as a marker or a trace of central conflicts where violent and opposing powers meet. It is a sign in itself and a visible concretion of abstract struggles, with the positive uptake being that questions are asked and aired in the open.

The Theater of Terrence McNally: A Critical Study – GreenwayBooks

When censorship has no public manifestation or is so widespread that it is not felt, it is maybe then that the most worrisome doubts might arise. Censorship has become an almost traditional feature of the history of American theater and could be considered as a sure sign that performance is alive and fully part of society.

This does not mean that censorship is desirable but that it is bound to crop up in a democracy that relies on the freedom of speech to validate its political system.

Yet, later on, new productions of both Lips Together, Teeth Apart and, especially, Corpus Christi ran into many censorship problems throughout the United States and in the United Kingdom. He was also nominated many times in these categories and for the Pulitzer Prize.

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All parenthetic references to Corpus Christi CC , - will be to this edition. Heins, op. After Donald Wildmon, speaking on behalf of the American Family Association, attacked his play, Wellman responded in a letter in which he especially questions the homophobic discourse.

See the letter sent to Wildmon in Michael Feingold ed. Britt, op.


  • McNally, Terrence [WorldCat Identities].
  • A Conversation With Terrence McNally, the Bard of American Theater.
  • Oeuvres de Saint-Pol-Roux (French Edition).
  • When Will These Things Be: The Next Journey.
  • The Theater of Terrence McNally: A Critical Study (SC) by Peter Wolfe | LibraryThing;

Applebome, op cit.. My point also relies on the thesis that freedom of speech is the most important freedom in a democracy because it is at the heart of the system to the extent that it creates space for a debate that makes possible the very existence of the government as representative of the people. See M. Iacub, op. Shewey, art. Feingold, art. United States and its analysis in M. See D. Sova, op. He publishes on Queer theater and contemporary American performance.

Gonzalez and H. Laplace-Claverie eds. Censorship and the Stage. The hot-button topic of gay marriage is the running theme of 'Some Men,' with the attendant questions that the subject invariably raises. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Archived from the original on Retrieved Hidden categories: Webarchive template wayback links CS1 errors: external links.

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