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October 18 marked the Irish American Writers and Artists’ second annual Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award Cocktail Reception, honoring actor Brian Dennehy. Dennehy won a Best Actor Tony in 2003 for his performance in O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, and has been nominated for six Emmys for performances in other O’Neill plays.
Author Mary Pat Kelly served as Master of Ceremonies at the reception, and IAW&A co-founder Peter Quinn delivered opening remarks. T.J. English, Conor McCourt and Joe Grifasi also shared congratulations.
Of his special relationship with O’Neill’s work, Dennehy has said: “I think that my being Irish American, the grandson of a factory worker in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and my being raised in a real Irish-American climate in Brooklyn and Long Island and New York in the 1940s and ’50s goes a long way towards explaining it.”
Dennehy won a Tony Award and Golden Globe in 1999 for his performance as Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s classic Death of a Salesman. He has appeared in over one hundred feature films, dozens of dramatic TV series and many made-for-TV movies. His varied roles have included numerous true-life characters, including Clarence Darrow, Teamster boss Jackie Presser, basketball coach Bobby Knight and serial killer John Wayne Gacy, to name a few. One of the evening’s highlights was a video montage of Dennehy’s many roles onstage and onscreen.
Last year’s honoree, William Kennedy, presented Dennehy with the award. He remarked, “I saw Brian interviewed on Charlie Rose, talking about his role in Death of a Salesman, and he said, ‘When theater is done right it is the author speaking to us.’ But I must add that we don’t necessarily perceive the author’s intention without translation by a great actor, who also translates what’s not there, who reads between the author’s lines, who intuits, who invents, who imposes his own personality, his own wisdom, his own wit wherever he sees the need. Brian said this himself: ‘Great actors of Hamlet – they all play it differently, and they play it differently every night.’ I believe that the talent for doing this comes from the actor’s authentic sense of himself – knowing he’s like nobody else. In some deep center of his being, he knows exactly who he is and who else he might be – which is where the greatness comes in. … We know that something excellent is happening here – a profundity of talent on display, or an unusual depth of understanding and expression of human behavior. Without any doubt there’s a singular presence up there on stage, and we relish it, we marvel at it, we want to applaud. And we do applaud. And the actor we’re reveling in, relishing, applauding – tonight it’s that big fellow over there – Brian Dennehy.”