Falling for Theatre and Winning it Over as Well

A winning combination: That’s what Goodman Theatre artistic director Robert Falls and actor Brian Dennehy have been for a quarter of a century.

Together they have created hit productions of plays by Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller, which they took to Broadway and for which they both received Tony Awards.

Lucky for us, the two pair up again when Falls’ long-time friend will open at the Goodman on Jan. 16 in a one-man double bill: “Hughie” by Eugene O’Neill and “Krapp’s Last Tape” by Samuel Beckett.

Falls, who has lived in Evanston for about 8 years, spoke about this collaboration in his office one rainy fall afternoon. Goodman’s play “Ruined” had just won four Joseph Jefferson Awards, including best new play and best play in a large theater, and the theater itself won another for “Rock ‘n’ Roll.”

But Falls was not resting on any of the accomplishments of his laurels-laden theater. Instead he was looking forward to the next chapter he was planning with Dennehy.

“It was Brian’s idea to pair the plays,” he begins. “These are two of the finest one-acts of the 20th century, and they each show a man in solitude and examine loneliness and regret.”

Dennehy and Falls first crossed paths at Wisdom Bridge Theatre Company, which Falls joined in 1976 and then built into a strong venue before he left for Goodman Theatre 30 years later.

While professional partnerships and successes have kept him in the spotlight, Falls says he never wanted to be anything but a theater guy.

“I always knew it,” he admits, nodding his head. “When I was growing up in Ashland—20 miles west of Springfield—I was always putting on plays, directing kids in the neighborhood. I know a lot of people do this when they are kids, but they stop. I never did.”

In addition to being the artistic director at Goodman, Falls does other things as well. He is very proud of the acclaimed production of Carlisle Floyd’s opera “Susannah” with Renee Fleming and Samuel Ramey, which he directed at Lyric Opera of Chicago. He has also directed plays at Lincoln Center, Circle in the Square and La Jolla Playhouse, to name only a few other theatrical venues.

Robert Falls celebrated his 20th anniversary as artistic director of the Goodman Theater in 2006. When it was suggested that his 25th anniversary comes up in two more years, he demurred.

“I’m still coming off my 20th,” he says. “Once every 20 years is enough.”

Falls & Dennehy: 25 years of collaboration

The professional association between Brian Dennehy and Robert Falls goes back to Falls’ days at Wisdom Bridge Theatre, where he was artistic director from 1977 to 1985.

“In 1984 we produced “Rat in the Skull” with Dennehy as a policeman in Northern Ireland during the Catholic terrorist attacks,” he says. “He was at the height of his movie career. And when I went to Goodman in 1986 I thought he would be a perfect Galileo.”

Additional Dennehy/Falls collaborations:
Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh” in 1990, which they took to the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 1992.
O’Neill’s “A Touch of the Poet” in 1996.
Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” in 1998.
O’Neill’s “Long Days Journey into Night” in 2002, which went to Broadway along with “Death of a Salesman.” Dennehy won a Tony for Best Actor for each show. Falls received a Tony Award for Best Director for “Salesman.”
O’Neill’s “Desire Under the Elms” first at Goodman, then on Broadway in 2009.

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