The Lisbon Traviata

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The Lisbon Traviata is a play by Terrence McNally. The play premiered Off-Broadway in 1989. It revolves around several opera fans, especially of the opera singer Maria Callas, and their gay relationships.


The play focuses on two of the playwright's favorite subjects, gay relationships and Maria Callas, and includes one of his most memorable characters, flamboyantly bitchy and viciously wicked opera queen Mendy. Stephen, a depressed literary editor and opera fanatic, is on the verge of losing his doctor lover to a considerably younger Columbia University student. In Act I, he takes temporary refuge at the apartment of fellow opera aficionado Mendy to dish about divas, listen to records, and avoid thinking about his rapidly unravelling eight-year relationship. In Act II, he returns home to confront his unfaithful partner.

The play derives its title from an actual 1958 Callas production of La Traviata at Teatro Nacional de São Carlos in the Portuguese capital. Two thousand copies of an unauthorized recording made by a cast member during a live performance, despite their amateur quality, quickly became collector's items among the diva's fans.[1] Stephen recently has acquired one which he neglected to bring with him, and Mendy is obsessed with his going home to retrieve it.

Production history[edit]

A earlier version of the play was produced at the Theatre Off Park, New York City, by Sherwin M. Goldman, Westport Productions and Theatre Off Park, Inc. on June 4, 1985. Directed by John Tillinger, the cast included Seth Allen as Mendy, Benjamin Hendrickson as Stephen, Steven Culp as Paul and Stephen Schnetzer as Mike.[2]

The play opened Off-Broadway at Stage I of the Manhattan Theatre Club on May 23, 1989, where it ran until July 2, 1989.[3] The production transferred to the Promenade Theatre on October 31, 1989, with a new, nonviolent ending,[4] where it ran until January 28, 1990.[5] Directed by John Tillinger, the cast included Nathan Lane (as Mendy), Dan Butler (as Mike), Anthony Heald (as Stephen) and John Slattery (as Paul). Lane won the Lucille Lortel and 1990 Drama Desk Awards for Best Actor, [6] Tillinger won the Lucille Lortel Award for direction, and McNally was nominated for the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play.

A 2003 British production, directed by Stephen Henry and starring Marcus D'Amico (Stephen), David Bamber (Mendy), Tristan Gemmill (Michael) and Matthew Thrift (Paul) played at The King's Head Theatre in London,[7] and won the 2004 Best Overall Fringe Production Award from Whatsonstage.[8]

A revised version was produced at the Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles, California, in November 1990. Directed by John Tillinger, the cast featured Richard Thomas as Stephen, Nathan Lane as Mendy, Dan Butler as Mike and Sean O'Bryan as Paul.[2]

Critical reception[edit]

Toby Silverman Zinman wrote that The Lisbon Traviata was important in McNally's progress to becoming a "mature and contemplative theatrical voice", noting that the characters were more "fully developed" with complicated relationships.[9]

Philip Fisher, in his review of the 2003 London production for British Theatre Guide, stated that the play was "extremely funny but also heart rending."[7]

Peter Marks reviewed a 2010 production at the Kennedy Center for The Washington Post, calling the play "one of McNally's more daring plays and one of his best." Marks noted that "few writers are funnier."[10]


  1. ^ Marques, Nuno Miguel. "Champagne And Coca-Cola, The True Story Of The Lisbon Traviata", March 22, 2002
  2. ^ a b McNally, Terrence. "Script" The Lisbon Traviata, (, Dramatists Play Service, Inc., 1992, ISBN 0822206730, pp. 4-5
  3. ^ "The Lisbon Traviata". Lortel Archives. Retrieved May 6, 2014. 
  4. ^ Gussow, Mel. "A New, Nonviolent Ending for 'Lisbon Traviata'" The New York Times, November 1, 1989
  5. ^ " The Lisbon Traviata Listing, Promenade Theatre" Internet Off-Broadway Database, accessed May 6, 2014
  6. ^ "1990 Drama Desk Award Winners", accessed April 26, 2014
  7. ^ a b Fisher, Philip. "'The Lisbon Traviata', King's Head, 2003", accessed May 6, 2014
  8. ^ "Whatsonstage Awards 2004", accessed May 7, 2014
  9. ^ Zinman, Toby Silverman. "Introduction" Terrence McNally: A Casebook, (, Routledge, 2014, ISBN 1135596050, p. xiii
  10. ^ Marks, Peter. "Theater review: 'The Lisbon Traviata' at the Kennedy Center" The Washington Post, March 26, 2010

External links[edit]