The evening was billed as “Artist Encounter”: Actors Brian Dennehy and Nathan Lane took to the Goodman Theatre stage Tuesday night for a conversation with the Chicago Tribune’s Chris Jones and Rick Kogan.
For the audience, it was a mix of insight offered by the actors during an hour and a half of free-ranging discussion and questions.
The two are starring in the Goodman’s upcoming production of “The Iceman Cometh,” a four-hour-plus staging that will showcase work Dennehy described as a quintessentially but demanding American play, with layers of truth. “It’s what the theater is all about,” he said.
One question from the audience flowed from comments from the actors earlier in the evening about O’Neill’s intense play that asks so much of the actors emotionally, and how they deal with it.
“Cheap therapy,” Dennehy observed. One of the real secrets of doing a role so many times that you owned it, he said, was to let the day’s events enter into the performance, making it deeper and richer.
In answering a similar question, Lane talked about leaving the role in the theater, saying that because he’s playing a killer doesn’t mean he’s going to leave the theater and kill someone.
Dennehy noted that some actors become the roles they play -- and he is glad he is not one of them.
Chicago has played significant role in the stage careers of both actors. Each pointedly waxed on about the theater community and supportive fans, with a nod to the Chicago chauvinism on this topic.
This city understands and appreciates theater in a way that other towns do not, said Dennehy, who has worked with Goodman artistic director Robert Falls previously.
And it was in Chicago that Lane and fellow cast members delivered a world premiere of “The Producers” that then-Tribune critic Richard Christiansen termed, prophetically, an “absolutely socko monster hit.” It went on to claim a dozen Tony Awards in 2001, including Lane’s second personal honor.
It was left to Tribune theater critic Jones to draw out Lane, recalling the magic that unfolded as “The Producers” caught fire with Chicago audiences and then triumphed on Broadway.
“It was,” Lane allowed, “the most extraordinary experience of my life.”
One question prompted Dennehy to reminisce about his movie role and a bartender in Blake Edwards’ “10.” Suffering from an ear infection, Edwards slipped the actor what he thinks was Percocet. Years later, a fellow actor was talking about the role and told Dennehy he had never looked more relaxed onscreen.
To another question – about doing this four-plus-hour production of “Iceman” in New York – Dennehy was not optimistic. The play is too long and too intense for the number of performances needed to have the economics work. And the play’s length also means overtime for stagehands.
And Lane, who mostly kept his comedic talents under wraps, found that bait irresistible. In New York, he said, “We’d do the musical version.”
Entertainment Editor Scott Powers contributed to this blog post. Margaret Holt is the Tribune’s standards editor.
Join Trib Nation on Facebook for more of the how and why of Tribune journalism.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun