"I learned from him that, in many ways, directing is knowing when to shut up. You can't take back out of the air something you've said before an actor's ready for it."
"I've seen him get angry, but only when it's about disrespect for the script and for acting," says Steppenwolf member John Mahoney, the regular on NBC's "Frasier" who counts Galati among his favorites, both as an actor and a director.
Galati says he's still adjusting to life without a course load, but he appears to be using his time for all the more theater work. In Chicago he has staged "Loving Repeating," a new musical he and Stephen Flaherty, the "Ragtime" and "Seussical" composer, based on the writings of Gertrude Stein; at the Goodman, he recently mounted "Oedipus Complex," in which Galati, showing he can adapt works fancifully as well as faithfully, introduces Sophocles' tragic Theban king to one of his biggest fans, Sigmund Freud.
Coming in September is a revival of the Kander and Ebb musical "The Visit," starring Chita Rivera at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Va. Also on the agenda is a musical version of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen" that director Galati and musician-composer Michael Smith hope to turn into a holiday-season perennial at Victory Gardens. The "After the Quake" tour -- featuring the original Steppenwolf cast and musicians, but still undergoing refinements in each city -- heads to Berkeley Repertory after playing in La Jolla.
"The days are full and sometimes long, but that's true of so many people who work and try to juggle complicated life issues and professional life," Galati says. He confesses that his work has pretty much been his life. None of his own complications has been so severe as to sunder his 37-year romantic partnership with choreographer-director Peter Amster, which began when they were graduate students at Northwestern.He says the common strand in his stage career, which has included directing at the Metropolitan Opera and the Lyric Opera of Chicago, spools from the teaching of his own mentor, Northwestern professor Robert Breen: the conviction that nontheatrical works that make for great reading can yield even more when plumbed in performance. Sometimes, as in much of "After the Quake," that means the speaker on stage is a narrator telling the story, rather than a character who is living it -- a no-no to some critics who believe action, not narration, is the essence of good theater. Galati says he wants to avoid "taking a story and crunching it into a play by squeezing out the narrator, who is the central intelligence, the beating heart and the point of view of a work of fiction." He's after something that will play well on stage, without extinguishing the authorial voice a reader hears when no character is talking.
"I always want to answer the question, 'How does a poem or story feel when it speaks?'"
'After the Quake'
Where: La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays