Donal Donnelly

Director, Performer


Born: July 6, 1931
Bradford, ENGLAND

Died: January 4, 2010
Chicago, Illinois, USA

Donal Donnelly, who created roles in several plays by his fellow Irishman, Brian Friel, died Jan. 4, 2010, in Chicago, where he had lived recently. The cause was cancer. He was 78. The actor first bowed on Broadway in Friel's early success Philadelphia, Here I Come!, playing the private half of the play's protagonist, a young Irishman set to emigrate to America. It was a role he created at the Gate Theatre in Dublin in 1964. He won his only Tony Award nomination for his performance, and his connection to Friel would become a thread that ran the length of his stage career.

Obituary: He returned to Broadway in the original production of Friel's Faith Healer, playing the colorful and garrulous talent agent Teddy opposite James Mason's traveling con artist, Frank. In 1991, he was the the wayward, missionary brother Jack to the five Irish sisters in Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa, a hit that won him a Drama Desk Award for Best Ensemble. His final Broadway appearance was in a revival of yet another Friel work, Translations, in 1995 at the Plymouth.

Frank Rich, writing of Lughnasa in the New York Times, said that Mr. Donnelly's "aging, distracted, shuffling Uncle Jack adds a poignant perspective to a career that has been linked with Mr. Friel's since he starred as the sassy young protagonist in the playwright's first Broadway success, Philadelphia, Here I Come!, 25 years ago."

Mr. Donnelly's stage presence was an amiable, slightly distracted one, often communicating a sort of dotty wisdom. He spoke in a cracked, hesitant voice full of Irish lift, and used his dark eyes, expressive eyebrows and prow-like nose to commanding effect. His was a face and voice the viewer easily latched onto.

Though perceived by the public as a quintessentially Irish actor, he was actually born in Bradford, England, near Leeds, and spent most of his professional life in America. His father James and mother Nora were Irish, and moved Donal to Dublin when he was quite young. He had seven brothers and sisters, all of whom remained in Ireland and one of whom was elected mayor of Dublin.

He attended the Synge Street Christian Brothers School in Dublin, where his fellow classmates included future actor Milo O'Shea. As a young man, he was heavily influenced by Shaw, and went on to play the writer in a one-man show called My Astonishing Self and again at Irish Rep in 1999's Dear Liar. Early acting roles were found at the Gate Theater in Dublin and as a member of a theatre company founded by Cyril Cusack, as well as in Playboy of the Western World in London. He moved to to the United States in the 1960s.

Other Broadway theatre credits included A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, Sleuth, The Elephant Man, Ghetto and Execution of Justice.

He had an early, significant film role in the 1965 British comedy "The Knack...and How to Get It." But his most famous screen part as that of Freddy Malins, a drunk, but thoughtful and feeling dinner guest in John Huston's critically praised 1987 film adaptation of Joyce's "The Dead."

He is survived by his wife of 45 years, the former Patricia Porter, whom he met, appropriately enough, on a production of Finian's Rainbow in London; and two sons, Jonathan and Damian, both of Chicago.



Playbill Cover - Translations Translations
Mar. 19, 1995 - Apr. 9, 1995
Jimmy Jack Performer
Playbill Cover - Dancing at Lughnasa Dancing at Lughnasa
Oct. 24, 1991 - Oct. 25, 1992
Jack Performer
Playbill Cover - Ghetto Ghetto
Apr. 30, 1989 - May 28, 1989
Weiskopf Performer
Playbill Cover - Sherlock's Last Case Sherlock's Last Case
Aug. 20, 1987 - Dec. 6, 1987
Doctor Watson Performer
Playbill Cover - Execution of Justice Execution of Justice
Mar. 13, 1986 - Mar. 22, 1986
Coroner Stephens Performer
    Dr. Blinder Performer
    Harry Britt Performer
Playbill Cover - The Elephant Man The Elephant Man
Apr. 19, 1979 - Jun. 28, 1981
Belgian Policeman Performer
    Frederick Treves Performer
Playbill Cover - Faith Healer Faith Healer
Apr. 5, 1979 - Apr. 22, 1979
Teddy Performer
Playbill Cover - Sleuth Sleuth
Nov. 12, 1970 - Oct. 13, 1973
Milo Tindle Performer
Playbill Cover - The Mundy Scheme The Mundy Scheme
Dec. 11, 1969 - Dec. 13, 1969
Playbill Cover - A Day in the Death of Joe Egg A Day in the Death of Joe Egg
Feb. 1, 1968 - Jun. 15, 1968
Arrived on Apr. 16, 1968
Playbill Cover - Philadelphia, Here I Come! Philadelphia, Here I Come!
Feb. 16, 1966 - Oct. 1, 1966
Gareth O'Donnell in Private Performer


Drama Desk Award

Year Category Production Winner/Nominee
1979 Outstanding Actor in a Play Faith Healer Nominee

Outer Critics Circle

Year Category Production Winner/Nominee
1966 Outstanding Performance Philadelphia, Here I Come! Winner

Tony Award

Year Category Production Winner/Nominee
1966 Actor in a Play Philadelphia, Here I Come! Nominee
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