UCA English professor Raymond-Jean Frontain was taken aback to attend the premiere of Terrence McNally’s “And Away We Go” in New York last Sunday and discover that the four-time Tony Award winning playwright had given his name to one of the principal characters in the play.
“And Away We Go” records the trials and jubilation of theater people across the centuries, dramatizing the challenges and rewards enjoyed by anyone engaged in a creative activity. The play opens with a performance of Aeschylus’s “Orestia” in ancient Greece and concludes with the failed American premiere of Samuel Beckett’s groundbreaking “Waiting for Godot,” starring Bert Lahr, at the Coconut Grove Playhouse. Madame Frontain is the name of the temperamental lead actress at the Theater Royal at Louis XIV’s Versailles, where a play by the politically radical Georges Jacques Danton has offended the palace chamberlain.
“I know that Mr. McNally was simply looking for a French name to assign one of his characters,” Frontain acknowledges, “but I appreciate his thinking of me. He has a habit of inscribing in his plays the names of the people to whom he feels a professional debt of gratitude, such as his high school English teacher. I like being a footnote to Broadway history, however small that note may be.”
McNally has won Tony Awards for the dramas “Love! Valour! Compassion!” and “Master Class,” and for the musicals “Kiss of the Spider Woman” and “Ragtime,” as well as an Emmy Award for “Andre’s Mother.” He is also the celebrated librettist for the opera “Dead Man Walking.” In spring, the indefatigable playwright will have another new play, “Mothers and Sons,” open on Broadway starring Tyne Daly, and a new opera with music by Jake Heggie premiere in Houston and later in New York.
Since receiving a fellowship in 2008 to work with McNally’s papers archived in the Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas in Austin, Frontain has become an authority on the playwright, publishing eighteen articles on him, including the only bibliography of both McNally’s published and unpublished works. He currently serves as the textual editor of a volume collecting 12 of McNally’s plays that is scheduled to appear in 2015 to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of McNally’s career on the New York stage. Frontain is also editing a collection of McNally’s occasional essays.