Essential viewing for theatre lovers, Every Act of Life which had its World Premiere at the 17th Tribeca Film Festival, is a tribute to the continuing career of multiple Tony-winning playwright Terrence McNally. His groundbreaking inclusion of layered gay characters and openness about his own sexuality made him stand out among his contemporaries such as Edward Albee, with whom he had a relationship as the film explores.
One of the film’s strengths it that although it is a loving portrait, it allows its contributors including Nathan Lane and Christine Baranski to discuss less flattering aspects of their experience of working with McNally as well as honouring him. The playwright himself is forthright about his own struggles with alcohol and recounts a memorable run in with screen legend Lauren Bacall at a Sondheim house party when he spilt a drink on the her. We also hear both sides of an attempted intervention at the same party by Angela Lansbury.
Every Act of Life takes in McNally’s theatrical triumphs as well as examining the plays and musicals that received a critical mauling such as The Ritz, which was also filmed starring F. Murray Abraham, and Corpus Christi which caused nationwide controversy.
Many actors who contribute to the documentary credit McNally with giving them their start in the business or a massive career boost. We hear from Joe Mantello who appeared in Love! Valour! Compassion!, Tyne Daly for whom McNally wrote the role of Katharine in Mothers and Sons, Patrick Wilson who was in the original production of The Full Monty musical, and F. Murray Abraham who recalls waiting all day for an audition without an appointment before being cast in The Ritz in 1975 and going on to star in the original Broadway production of Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune opposite Kathy Bates.
The sections of the film that deal with McNally’s loss of two partners to AIDS are particularly moving. Living through a time where radical changes in LGBTQ rights have been achieved in the US, we are given an insight into the writer’s activism and its a joy to see him become legally married to his husband Broadway producer Thomas Kirdahy in 2015.
As well as offering an in-depth and intimate insight into the man behind the work, Every Act of Life builds a picture of a figure who has contributed much to American theatre and is persuasive call to recognise him among the greats.