Theater Review: Brian Dennehy and Robert Falls—a 25-year collaboration

By Edith McCauley
Theater Critic

The Goodman Theatre is the setting for a relationship between two giants in theater. For 25 years, Brian Dennehy and Robert Falls have given audiences the gift of memorable performances, especially the works of Eugene O’Neill, Desire Under the Elms, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, The Iceman Cometh and Death of a Salesman. Nearly all have gone on to Broadway, receiving prestigious awards. Their current production spotlights two one-act plays, O’Neill’s Hughie and Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape. Falls says, “These plays are mini-masterpieces; both are leavened by the black Irish humor that was the heritage of each author, and both offer incomparable challenges to an actor.”

My first time seeing Hughie was at the Court Theater at Beloit College with Josh Burton as Erie Smith, the down-on-his-luck gambler, and Rod MacDonald as the night clerk, Charlie, his “sounding board.” Dennehy’s performances at the Goodman gave me detailed memories of that first production. Joe Grifasi plays Charlie with amazing skill. His completely deadpan reaction to Erie’s long-winded tales takes great self-control.

Krapp’s Last Tape was also seen early on in my career as a critic. It was a bitterly cold night, and the performance was given in a small gallery on East State Street. I’m not sure who played Krapp, but it, too, was memorable for the unique ideas it presented.

Hughie and Krapp are both facing end-of-life decisions. Erie’s career as a fairly-successful gambler seems to have ended with the death of his friend, Hughie, and Krapp, a doddering old man, can only recall the joys of his youth by playing and replaying the tapes made at the end of each year, detailing the events that are fading from his memory. Dennehy plays both characters amazingly well. The body language that makes Krapp so believable evoked laughter as well as great sympathy.

Reviewers have given Dennehy accolades, and the run of the play has been extended until Feb. 28. A New York run is being planned, and if it goes as well as previous plays, more awards are in the offing. The collaboration really works. Interesting note: Hughie and Krapp’s Last Tape were first staged in 1958. For detailed ticket information, call (312) 443-3800. Another Chicago play well worth the trip.

From the Feb. 17-23, 2010 issue

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