JOHN LITHGOW: STORIES BY HEART
January 15, 2018
Blessed with a natural born affability, John Lithgow converts the Roundabout Theater into one large parlor; seated in a chair, Lithgow invites you into his house. Over the next two hours, the avuncular actpr regales his audience with stories about his father.
When growing up, his father would sit in his easy chair and recount stories to the family. One memorable night-time story was Ring Lardner’s 1925 Haircut set in a barbershop in the Midwest. A little kinky for a young person, Lithgow enthusiastically emits the sounds of sharpening a blade on a razor strap and other incidental noises.
To convey the different, colorful characters populating the barbershop, Lithgow, undoes his collar, cocks his head, stands to extend his arms. All the characterizations are accomplished through subtle shifts of voice and gesture.
Attracted to his kind, trusting face, everyone listens to Lithgow who wears a grey suit and white shirt by Jess Goldstein while relaxing in a comfy wingback chair by John Lee Beatty positioned in a warm pool of light by Kenneth Posner.
In between the stories, Lithgow reminisces about life with his father who was a man of the theater, constantly on the move until he lands in the bastion of liberalism Yellow Springs, Ohio home to Antioch College.
Like so many people currently dealing with elder parents, when dad Lithgow begins failing, John stays at the house to ease his days. Different attempts to raise his moods fail, but suddenly, John hit on an idea -- why not read the family stories bound in lush leather, and see if they have an effect? And voila! That’s the ticket. John reads to his father the very stories that somehow retained tracks in his psyche.
The second story brings to light the Lithgow family’s humor preference and it lands in the lap of British wit as delivered by the venerable P.G. Wodehouse. In his preamble to the book, Lithgow suggests that Wodesouse stories shaped the family’s sense of humor – a humor that was not shared by many in the Midwest.
Uncle Fred Flits By is a jocular farce depicting what could be the original “Odd Couple.” Fastidious and buttoned up, Pongo Twistleton (the name says it all) is upset by his spontaneous Uncle Fred.
After agreeing to join his uncle on a nostalgic trip to his family home, they walk into what they think is a vacated house only to attend to visitors who assume they belong on the premises. Assumed identities, and daring acts add up to heart-racing, discombobulating romp in the country.
In truth, the production of John Lithgow: Stories By Heart might have fared better appearing in the baronial library in the Morgan Library, or the Frick Museum or Park Avenue Armory Veterans Room.
Directed by Daniel Sullivan, the production’s rhythm can lag when Lithgow’s gait slows down causing the well-crafted intimacy to melt away in the theater. Still, Ltihgow is to be applauded for his nightly foray into the power and simplicity of a well-crafted story.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis