Thursday, April 16, 2020

Eugene O'Neill, not Hollywood, made Brian Dennehy a Chicago star

Brian Dennehy with Pamela Payton-Wright
 in Goodman Theatre's 2002 
"Long Day's Journey Into Night."
     Brian Dennehy would have laughed.
     “He would have found  'Tommy Boy actor dead at 81’ fucking hilarious,” said Robert Falls, artistic director of the Goodman Theatre, of the headline that raced around social media Thursday. “I find it pathetic. The guy lived such a rich and full life, in the grandest sense.”
     The Tony Award-winning actor died Wednesday.
     While the world might have known Dennehy as a movie star, from Chris Farley’s popular, cringeworthy comedy or from “First Blood” — he was the sheriff giving Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo a hard time — or other Hollywood tripe, Chicagoans knew better.
     “This was one of the great actors of our generation,” said Falls, who directed Dennehy in nine productions, including such classics as Eugene O’Neill’s “A Long Day’s Journey Into Night” and Arthur Miller’s timeless tragedy “Death of a Salesman,” which Dennehy starred in at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre in 1998, then took to Broadway and performed 450 times, winning a Tony.
     The two met in the mid-1980s when the old 121-seat Wisdom Bridge Theater on Howard Street presented Ron Hutchinson’s drama “Rat in the Skull.” 

     “Brian wanted to play this Northern Irish cop,” said Falls. “He just wanted to do this play. He was thrilled to come to Chicago. It was love at first sight.”James Lancaster (left) and Brian Dennehy in a scene from the Wisdom Bridge Theatre production of Ron Hutchinson’s “Rat in the Skull” in 1985.
     The two men became friends and frequent collaborators.
     “We bonded over Irish Catholicism, alcoholism running through our family, and a love of Eugene O’Neill,” said Falls. “From the beginning, and I know this sounds crazy, but Brian said: ‘We’re going to do a lot of plays together. We’re going to do the big ones, the really difficult ones.’ I said ‘OK.’ ”
     Falls kicked off his artistic directorship with Dennehy in Bertolt Brecht’s “Galileo.”

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  1. Now THAT is a proper eulogy. Tommy Boy, indeed. Pfft. How very lazy, nearly dismissive, of whoever came up with thst as a headline as the announcements of Dennehy's death

    1. I thought the same thing... I feel very fortunate to have seen him in Galileo and THAT'S how I'll remember him.

  2. Now I feel bad that I never got around to seeing Dennehy onstage in Chicago.

    The few times I saw him on TV or in the movies, he projected a very likable persona, but I wondered how genuine it was. Your typically excellent obit makes me think it was very much so. Well done, as usual.

  3. I actually dug his bartender role in "10."

  4. I last saw him at the Stratford Theater Festival in a double header: one act plays by Beckett and O'Neil. It was a virtuoso performance, but one had the impression that he made the other actors better too. Wish I had seen his Willy Lohman.



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