In today’s Wall Street Journal I review John Lithgow: Stories by Heart. Here’s an excerpt.
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The solo show is one of Broadway’s best-established genres, but it’s also enervatingly unvaried. Far too many of the one-person shows that open there are cliché-encrusted exercises in theatrical taxidermy in which a famous actor pretends to be a famous historical figure. While the best such shows can be spectacularly effective vehicles for a great performer, most of them leave you sneaking peeks at your watch and muttering, “Is he ever going to die?” Not so “Stories by Heart,” in which John Lithgow, following in the hallowed footsteps of Charles Laughton, reads two of his favorite short stories out loud and tells us how he came to know them. That’s all there is to “Stories by Heart,” and it’s more than enough. Rarely have I spent so entertaining a night at the theater—or witnessed so touching a tribute to a departed parent.
Therein lies the secret ingredient of “Stories by Heart,” which is both a one-man show and an act of filial piety. Arthur Lithgow, Mr. Lithgow’s late father, spent much of his life founding summer Shakespeare festivals at a time when such enterprises were rare. He was, as Mr. Lithgow gently hints in “Stories by Heart,” a bit of a ne’er-do-well, but one whose passion for theater usually kept his head above water. It was his long-standing custom of reading short stories out loud to his four children that inspired his now-famous son to put together this show, most of which is given over to “readings” of Ring Lardner’s “Haircut” and P.G. Wodehouse’s “Uncle Fred Flits By,” two of the family’s favorite tales.
I put the word “readings” in scare quotes because Mr. Lithgow doesn’t really read either story: He acts them, quickly disposing of his only prop, the very same battered copy of Somerset Maugham’s “Tellers of Tales” from which his father read to the Lithgow children once upon a time. What’s more, he acts them to the hilt, turning “Haircut” into a dramatic monologue with a head-turning reveal and “Uncle Fred Flits By” into a one-disaster-after-another farce from which the only thing missing is pratfalls….
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Read the whole thing here.
Excerpts from John Lithgow: Stories by Heart: