'He led and created from love': Steppenwolf ensemble members recall Tony winner Frank Galati
Beloved theater artist Frank Galati -- a Highland Park native and longtime Steppenwolf Theatre ensemble member described as a leader who "infused joy into the rehearsal room" -- died Monday at age 79.
"He led and created from love," Steppenwolf co-founder Terry Kinney said of the Tony Award-winner, a multi-hyphenate director, adapter and actor.
Galati, a graduate of Glenbrook High School in Northbrook, joined the Steppenwolf ensemble in 1985 and adapted and directed Steppenwolf's epic 1988 production of John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath," which earned Galati two of his 11 Joseph Jefferson Awards. He also served as Goodman Theatre's associate director from 1986 to 2008 and was a longtime Northwestern University performance studies professor.
"He woke up our joy, no matter how tragic the literature," said Kinney, who described his colleague as a "benevolent guru."
Kinney starred in "The Grapes of Wrath" alongside Gary Sinise, who hailed Galati in a prepared statement.
"While his loss will be felt with sadness by all of us, his legacy of great work and his genuine kindness and generosity as a wonderful person will live on and on," said Sinise, a Steppenwolf co-founder and suburban native.
Days after Galati began working with the ensemble on its 1985 revival of George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart's "You Can't Take it With You," it was "evident to everyone we wanted to continue the relationship beyond this one play," recalled Sinise. "It was during this period that I asked Frank if he had any projects he'd always wanted to do, and he mentioned Steinbeck's 'The Grapes of Wrath.'"
After playing in Chicago, La Jolla, California, and London, the production transferred to Broadway in 1990, earning Tony Awards for Galati's direction and for best production. "Frank was the perfect arbiter" of that journey, Kinney said.
"We had four different incarnations," Kinney recalled. "In each and every step, we improved because of him."
"He had this infectious laugh," Kinney added. "He would sit and giggle when you'd run a scene."
Steppenwolf co-artistic directors Glenn Davis and Audrey Francis remembered Galati for his vision and warmth.
"For some, (Galati) was a teacher, mentor, director, adapter, writer, fellow actor and visionary," they said in a prepared statement. "Frank always made others feel cared for, valued and inspired in his ever-generous, joyful and compassionate presence."
In addition to a 1998 Tony nomination for directing "Ragtime," Galati received an Academy Award nomination for his screenplay for "The Accidental Tourist."
At Steppenwolf, he adapted and directed Murakami's "after the quake" (2005-2006) and "Kafka on the Shore" (2008) along with E.L. Doctorow's "The March" (2012). At Goodman, he directed "The Visit," "She Always Said Pablo," "The Winter's Tale," "The Good Person of Setzuan" and "Cry the Beloved Country." His most recent production was Asolo Repertory Theatre's 2022 premiere of the musical "Knoxville," which he adapted from James Agee's "A Death in the Family."
"Frank was someone who led from his own examples," Kinney said. "Witnessing his joy, his unconditional love and his gratitude for all of it. He was so happy to be a member of our company and that made us happy to be members as well."