Although famous for his film and television work, Brian Dennehy has always remained a dedicated theater artist. Known for his stern, commanding and tenacious presence, Dennehy first appeared at the Goodman in the title role of Bertolt Brecht’s Galileo (1986), which marked the inaugural production of then-incoming Artistic Director Robert Falls. The show ignited an immensely powerful partnership between the actor and director. Throughout his four decades at the theater, Dennehy has worked with Falls to tackle large-scale, powerhouse plays, most notably the major works of great American masters like Eugene O’Neill.
Their first O’Neill collaboration was the 1990 production of his epic The Icemean Cometh. Anchored by Falls’ sensitive direction, Dennehy delivered a bravura star turn as hardware salesman Theodore “Hickey” Hickman. The duo followed its success in 1996 with one of O’Neill’s most complex plays, A Touch of the Poet, with Dennehy portraying the tyrannical Con Melody.
Dennehy and Falls shifted their focus to the work of another legendary American playwright in 1998 with Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Dennehy’s devastating performance as weary traveling salesman Willy Loman received rapturous reviews; The New York Times called it “the performance of his career.” The show transferred to Broadway the following year, where Dennehy earned a Best Actor Tony Award, and later brought the Goodman international acclaim with a West End run.
He struck Tony gold again in 2003 with O’Neill’s masterpiece Long Day’s Journey Into Night, which played the Goodman the previous year. His admiration for the writer continued with a stirring turn in the obscure, posthumously published one-act Hughie (2004), which Dennehy revisited in 2010, performing the show in repertory with Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape. And when the Goodman celebrated O’Neill in 2009 with A Global Exploration: Eugene O’Neill in the 21st Century, Dennehy headlined the festival in a revival of Desire Under The Elms, which subsequently transferred to Broadway.
Over 20 years after Dennehy and Falls first tackled The Iceman Cometh, they revived the enduring work in 2012, this time with Dennehy playing withdrawn barfly Larry Slade. The towering production became the most successful show in the Goodman’s history. Dennehy and its original cast will reprise their work in 2015 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.