Here’s an unexpected treat. This Friday, September 16 at the Sheen Center at 18 Bleecker Street in Manhattan, acclaimed actor Brian Dennehy, the Irish American star of stage and screen, will discuss his distinguished three decade long career and perform excerpts from the life-changing works of Eugene O'Neill, Samuel Beckett and Arthur Miller, and tickets are still available.
Known for his towering performances in the greatest works of major Irish and Irish American playwrights, Dennehy won Tony Awards for Best Actor for his work in Death of a Salesman and Long Day’s Journey into Night.
It’s his intuitive grasp of the hard plight of the Irish emigrant in the 20th century, haunted by the Edenic echoes of a lost homeland that lends his work so much gravitas and results in his indelible performances. Dennehy achieves his own authority onstage because he knows O’Neill and Miller’s stricken characters in his bones.
Dennehy has also received a Golden Globe Award, a Screen Actor’s Guild Award and an Emmy nomination for the television version of Death of a Salesman, which critics call the definitive interpretation of Miller’s tormented central character Willie Loman.
Dennehy was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the Irish on both sides son of Hannah Manion and Edward Dennehy, a wire service editor for the Associated Press.
He has two brothers, Michael and Edward, who could have been characters in an O’Neill play themselves. The family relocated to Long Island when he was still a boy and where he later attended Chaminade High School in Mineola.
Enlisting in the Marine Corps in 1959, Dennehy served on active duty on Okinawa until 1963. Later he enrolled at Columbia University, where he played football and majored in history before moving on to the Yale School of Drama to study dramatic arts.
It was on TV where he first came to prominence, starting out in small guest roles in prominent 1970s and 1980s series like Kojak, Lou Grant, Dallas and Dynasty.
It’s a long and varied career, and in it he’s met and often performed alongside many of the nation’s most prominent working actors. One friend in particular was the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
“I suspect that what happened with Phil was that he got everything he ever really wanted, and for what ever reason, it just wasn't enough,” Dennehy, who has struggled with his own public and private demons over the course of his career, told the press.
“I've flirted with it myself – sometimes more than flirted – and I got lucky, because I survived it first of all, and realized that it's stupid. Raising self-destruction to some kind of elevated status is dumb.”
Dennehy admits he was not anxious to embrace the fate of other famous friends like Chris Farley and John Belushi, because he has come to realize that their self-destructive behavior did not make them better actors.
“Mostly they are lying to themselves,” Dennehy said. “You need every bit of intelligence and consciousness that you can possibly muster to do the right work. People think they can get better because they screw themselves up in some way or another, and they almost always make a mistake.”
The main criteria for accepting a role has to be its challenge, Dennehy says in a bit of career wisdom that younger actors, padding their resumes, might want to take note of.
“I’m only interested in doing stuff that’s hard to do, that’s challenging,” he told Playbill recently, “and as a result pays off or blows up in your face. I’d like to see how it turns out myself. I may make a complete fool of myself, but it won’t be the first time and probably won’t be the last.”
On Friday, September 16 at the Sheen Center, Anne Cattaneo, the Dramaturg of the Lincoln Center Theatre, will also host a panel discussion. Regular ticket prices are $42, but using the special code 1STIRISH can be purchased for only $25.
Visit www.sheencenter.org or call 212-925-2812.