Award-winning actor -- and Mineola native -- Brian Dennehy is known for playing tough guys, but this month he flashes his tenderhearted side in the first Broadway revival of A.R. Gurney's "Love Letters," a two-person play about a man and woman, lifelong friends, who may actually be each other's one true love.
The poignant tale, told in a series of letters, notes and postcards, will be read by a series of all-star casts through February at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. Dennehy is paired with Mia Farrow (now through Oct.10) and Carol Burnett (Oct. 11 through Nov. 7).
We follow the pair -- upright, respectable Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, and renegade Melissa Gardner -- over the course of decades, hearing tales of boarding school, summer camp, marriages, motherhood.
Dennehy, 76, has won two Tony Awards for best actor for "Long Day's Journey Into Night" and "Death of a Salesman," and he'll co-star with Nathan Lane this February in "The Iceman Cometh" at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. He spoke recently with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio.
What appeals about "Love Letters"?
It's more than it seems. It deals with two lives that should've probably been together but for one reason or another weren't. Two people talking to each other about what was and what might have been.
I'm curious to see how it'll differ from cast to cast.
It's interesting to hear it again through another voice. I remember seeing it years ago with James Earl Jones, and it was fascinating how different it was. An actor like Alan Alda will approach the play -- with his wry sense of humor and ability to laugh, even when it's a dark laugh aimed at himself -- and be one thing. And Marty Sheen will be something else.
You're the only one playing a double-header, performing with Farrow, then Burnett.
Mia and I toured in a play, "Exonerated," about people wrongly convicted. She's a wonderful friend. Carol, of course, is phenomenally talented and one of the great broads of all time. It'll be fun -- haven't seen her in years.
Then, Eugene O'Neill's "Iceman Cometh." But this time, Lane's playing Hickey, the larger-than-life salesman, the part you usually play. A dramatic role -- different for him.
Yeah, I've played it three times. It's as ambitious a project as an actor can take, and I think New York is gonna be astounded by what Nathan does. It's always been the great O'Neill test for actors. It's one of those parts where ... it stays with you.
All this talk about love letters. Do you actually write letters much, yourself?
No. I text -- and try to make 'em interesting. But I don't do tweets or Facebook or any of that. There are two or three Facebook accounts by pathetic people who pretend to be me -- I can't imagine why anyone would wanna do that. If you're gonna be somebody, you might try to be ... Brad Pitt or something. Talk about setting a low bar for yourself.
I hear you went to Chaminade High School in Mineola.
Right. We had a little frame house about a five-minute walk from school. It was the first house my father ever bought.
My parents went to Mineola High, and my mom remembers playing gym outside, and the girls would peek across to the Chaminade fields to catch sight of you guys.
There was this misconception we all had money. In those days, it was mostly working-class Irish Catholics or Italians. We didn't have money. Our sister school was Sacred Heart in Hempstead. Most of the girls we went out with were from there -- and believe me when I say that it was unbelievably innocent compared to -- -- the kind of things that go on today.
Where'd you hang out? Wasn't there a roller rink ... ?
I remember the roller rink, but didn't go there much. I was a football player and awkward enough as it was. I was a jazz freak as a kid, so I'd take a train into the city and spend a lot of time at those clubs ... completely illegally ... on 52nd Street. Usually just walking up and down the street. I loved New York -- I went to Columbia University because I didn't want to leave. Was in the Marine Corps after that. But at Chaminade ... I had football, and the drama club -- those are the things I remember most about school. It was all pretty wonderful. Your teenage years had better be, because it's gonna be really hard to make the rest of them wonderful. I was lucky. I had a good time.