Which is why Edward Gero and Patrick Andrews, the actors cast in John Logan’s play as, respectively, volatile abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko and a strong-willed assistant, found themselves last summer in a Chicago rehearsal hall, studying the text of “Red” as if each and every word were encrypted.
“We spent the first two weeks going line by line, in active analysis,” recalled Gero, the longtime Washington actor who had previously worked for Falls in a bloody, modern-dress “King Lear” at Shakespeare Theatre Company, inspired by the disintegration of Tito’s Yugoslavia. Gero described the exhaustive investigation that occurred before Falls’s “Red” debuted at the Goodman: “The first line, ‘What do you see?,’ I had to find an action for it: ‘I inquire!’ We had to come up with physical gestures for every line. And I thought,” he added with a laugh, “ ‘When are we going to do the play?’ ”
To the charge of putting his actors through rigorous hoops, Falls pleads guilty — and blames it on his new passion for the methods of Constantin Stanislavski, the legendary Russian stage director and theoretician. Several times over the past few years, Falls has flown to Moscow to immerse himself in some of the Stanislavskian ideas and techniques he’d read about while an undergraduate theater student at the University of Illinois and never fully understood.
“I wanted to learn how to get deeper and more richly into the work, and also empower the actors without telling them what to do,” he said, between swigs of Diet Coke. The goal was to “shift away from an authoritarian director” — one who essentially picks from among the responses actors provide in rehearsal and then sets them in theatrical stone — to a director who could allow the actors to move and think more independently on the stage.
“You spend all your time as a director trying to make it like it’s happening in the moment,” Falls noted. “But you actually can create it so that it happens in the moment.”
If Falls has a tendency to sit still job-wise — holding just two posts since 1977, when he became artistic director of Chicago’s Wisdom Bridge Theatre, and then in 1986, taking over at the Goodman — the brain isn’t sedentary. “This most fascinating and restless of Midwestern directors, forever on his way again to somewhere else” is how the Chicago Tribune’s theater critic, Chris Jones, described him in a 2010 review of his “Seagull.”