Goodman Theatre artistic director Robert Falls was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame on Monday night in New York.
Falls, who won the 1999 Tony Award for best director for the revival of “Death of a Salesman” was inducted alongside 2015 honorees Lynn Ahrens (songwriter), Stephen Flaherty (songwriter), Tony Kushner (playwright), Julie Taymor (director), Ken Billington (lighting designer), Merle DeBuskey (Broadway publicist), and actors Stacy Keach, and Roger Rees (posthumously).
Among Fall’s most critically acclaimed work at the Goodman are “Death of a Salesman” (1998), “Long Days’ Journey Into Night” (2002), and “The Iceman Cometh” (2012). Most recently, Falls directed the off-Broadway premiere of Beth Henley’s “The Jacksonian,” starring Ed Harris, Glenne Headly, Amy Madigan and Bill Pullman. His Broadway productions of “Death of a Salesman” and “Long Day’s Journey into Night” received seven Tony Awards and three Drama Desk Awards.
Reached by phone on Tuesday, Falls said he was “both humbled and honored” by the Monday night event, held at the Gershwin Theater in New York City. Absent from the festivities, was his longtime friend, collaborator and “my muse,” actor Brian Dennehy, who was scheduled to introduce Falls but was called away on a family emergency.
“Brian and I have done a dozen projects over the years and I’ve had the greatest experiences in my theater life with him,” Falls said. “He was so flattered and excited when I asked him to do [the introductory remarks] but there was a family emergency he had to attend to. He wrote his remarks, however, and my partner of almost 30 years, [Goodman Theatre executive director] Roche Schulfer read them in his place.”
Falls, who hails from downstate Ashland, Ill., said he thanked his theater influences (“and especially my wife, Kat, for her support and love”) during his acceptance speech, especially the persons and playwrights that helped shape his career.
“Growing up in a small town in central Illinois, I discovered theater at a public library where I would read plays,” Falls said. The first professional production I saw in Chicago at a very young age was ‘The Music Man’ … with Forrest Tucker, who had replaced Robert Preston for the national tour. I really thanked the many artists such as Brian, and Stacey Keach, my co-inductee, with whom I did ‘King Lear’ years ago in Chicago. All the great playwrights. The Broadway artists I’ve worked with. But especially the Goodman and Chicago, where I have worked for 40 years in theater. How fortunate I have been to make my home there for so many years. And Wisdom Bridge [Theater] before that. … Goodman has meant everything to me. It’s been the center of my artistic life for almost three decades. And the Chicago audiences, who’ve supported the work I’ve done, the artists and playwrights I’ve brought to the Goodman. The Goodman is truly an artist’s home, and that is very important for a playwright.”
Falls was the only honoree on Monday night whose career has not been New York-centric, something which he said really touched him about the accolade.
“They recognized me for a career that has almost entirely been a Chicago career,” Falls said. “That says something [about Chicago’s theater scene].”
Falls, whose accolades (in addition to Tony Awards) for his work as a director include 12 Jeff Awards, two Drama Desk Awards, one Drama League Award, among others, said he has learned as much from his failures as he did his successes over the course of his career.
“I guess the cliché is ‘I learn more from my failures’,” Fall said with a chuckle. “But I don’t know if that’s true in my case. I don’t think I’ve had that many failures. The definition of failure is peculiar. I’ve had one or two plays [“American Buffalo” and “Desire Under the Elms”] that did not find the success I’d hoped for on Broadway. … I’ve had my single biggest success with [the Elton John-Tim Rice musical] ‘Aida’ which ran five years on Broadway. You really learn from all your experiences.”
Looking ahead, Falls said there are “no big left turns” coming, though the Goodman, he said, is in talks to open a “third, smaller performance space,” while continuing its mission “to develop new plays by emerging playwrights and mid-career playwrights.”
“I want to continue doing what we’re doing as well as we can,” he said. “Classic work innovatively staged.”
Founded in 1971 the Theater Hall of Fame honors Lifetime Achievement in the American Theater.
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Posted Nov. 17, 2015.