The Grapes of Wrath, pr., 1988 (adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel)
A Flea in Her Ear, pb. 1989 (adaptation of Georges Feydeau’s play)
Cry, the Beloved Country, pr. 1993 (adaptation of Alan Paton’s novel)
Gertrude Stein: Each One as She May, pr. 1994
As I Lay Dying, pr. 1995 (adaptation of William Faulkner’s novel)
Oral Interpretation, 1977 (with Charlotte I. Lee)
The Accidental Tourist, 1988 (with Lawrence Kasdan; adaptation of Ann Tyler’s novel)
Frank Joseph Galati (gah-LA-tee) was born in Highland Park, Illinois, and attended Glenbrook North High School, where he appeared in many musicals. Galati was influenced by Ray Raynor, a Chicago television celebrity, to pursue a career in theater. He attended Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where he received his B.A. (1965), M.A. (1967), and Ph.D. (1971) from the School of Speech. It was while attending Northwestern and taking a class in chamber theater taught by Robert S. Breen, the definer and developer of chamber theater, that Galati honed his craft of adapting narrative literature for the stage. His fame primarily resides in his ability to take works of literature not originally intended for the stage and make them stageworthy. He says he is able to find the “play” in a novel–like John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (1939)–and release it in his adaptation. A professor of performance studies at Northwestern, he teaches a seminar in Samuel Beckett, classes in solo performance recitals, and classes in presentational aesthetics, in which students learn to make their own adaptations. In addition to his talents for directing, acting, and adapting, he coauthored with Charlotte Lee (a former Northwestern colleague) the fifth edition of the seminal text Oral Interpretation.
In 1986 Galati became the associate director of the Goodman Theater and an ensemble member of the Steppenwolf Theater, both in Chicago. Goodman and Steppenwolf are acclaimed venues which offer everything from world premieres to classic revivals which often move to Broadway. The Goodman is a not-for-profit resident, professional theater company which prides itself on casting Chicago-based actors. Steppenwolf is an international theater committed to ensemble collaboration and risk-taking. Its members include established stars who perform on Broadway, television, and film but frequently return to do a show in Chicago. The majority of Galati’s nonacademic directing has been at these two venues, but he has directed productions throughout the United States and Canada.
His reputation also extends to Broadway, film, and opera. The production of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, which began at Steppenwolf, moved to Broadway and won for Galati two Tony Awards for his adaptation and his direction. In addition, he won a Drama Desk Award as best director, and Steppenwolf Theater Company won the Outer Critics Circle Award for outstanding Broadway play. This was followed by Galati’s work directing Ragtime with book by Terrence McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty, and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, which was based on the 1975 novel by E. L. Doctorow. Ragtime received eleven Tony nominations, including one for Galati, and won for best book and best score. Galati’s acclaimed revival of Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie (1945) starred Julie Harris and Calista Flockhart. Galati and Lawrence Kasden adapted Anne Tyler’s novel The Accidental Tourist (1985) and received an Academy Award nomination for their screenplay based on material from another medium. In addition, Galati has a passion for opera. He has staged many productions for the Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera, Dallas Opera, and Chicago Opera theater, including Virgil Thomsen’s Four Saints in Three Acts (1927-1928), Dominick Argento’s The Voyage of Edgar Allan Poe (1976), Claude Debussy’s Pelleas and Melisande (1902), Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata (1853), and Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca(1900).
Galati’s work has garnered many awards and honors. The highest theater honor in Chicago is the Joseph Jefferson Award. He has won one Joseph Jefferson Award for acting, five for directing, and three for writing, in addition to being nominated for his work in Michael Healey’s The Drawer Boy (with Galati, making his Steppenwolf acting debut, John Mahoney, and Johnny Galecki). That show was picked by Time magazine as one of the best ten theater picks for the 2001 season. In 2001 he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in 2002 he was awarded an honorary doctor of humane letters from Wabash College.
It is Galati’s iconoclastic style as well as his strong aesthetic sense that generates so much interest and acclaim. His skill is in creating original scripts from nondramatic material–widening the dimensions of what is normally thought of as “theater.” His primary interests in transforming novels into plays, plays into operas, and novels into musicals, and in compiling original scripts on authors as diverse as Edgar Allan Poe and Gertrude Stein as well as his keen eye as a director set him apart. Chicago theater critic Alan Bresloff writes, “Frank is regarded quite highly in both Chicago and New York. . . . No one has ever had a bad word to say about him.”