Thursday, July 19 , 2018, 5:34 am | Fair 63º


Review: John Lithgow’s ‘Stories’ Touch the Heart

He moves the audience at The Granada with his personal and intimate one-man show

It turns out that stage, film and television star John Lithgow’s last name is pronounced Lith-go, as if the “w” weren’t there. After all these years saying it wrong, I’m happy to have heard it from the man himself. And that’s not the only thing I’m happy to have heard from him.

Monday’s one-man show at The Granada was a delightful evening of storytelling and was surprisingly intimate, despite the thousand-odd people there. “Stories by Heart” is Lithgow’s presentation of two beloved stories from his childhood, framed by his own anecdotes of growing up in the Midwest in an eccentric theater family, and in recent years, caring for his aged parents.

In the first half, Lithgow shared recollections of his family — his quirky Shakespearean actor and producer father, his resourceful mother valiantly keeping it together when things were uncertain, providing him and his siblings with a life that he described as happy, if not luxurious. He cited the steady stream of stories and laughter in the family as the main source of security and bonding between them.

He then proceeded to pick up a well-worn leather-bound book — Tellers of Tales, a compilation of 100 short stories edited by W. Somerset Maugham, the very copy he grew up hearing his father read stories from.

Lithgow described the poignant shift in perspective when in recent years his father was recovering from a serious illness. While caring for both of his parents, elderly by this time, he took up reading to them at bedtime. In a depression and seeming to have lost his joy in life, the senior Mr. Lithgow regained his ability to laugh only when his son read him his own favorite story from childhood. Sitting down in the wingback chair next to the floor lamp, he put on his glasses and began to read us that story — Uncle Fred Flits By by P.G. Wodehouse.

After barely a page, however, he got up and laid the book and glasses aside without missing a word, and continued his recitation of the humorous story, full of dialogue and characters and odd situations — all in a variety of quite authentic English accents. A consummate actor, Lithgow has the ability to define each character by voice, expression and posture and to flow among them seemingly effortlessly. He had described his family as “anglophiles,” and it is apparent that growing up steeped in this influence gave him a fine start in life as an actor. And the 40 years he has practiced that art haven’t hurt either, I’m sure.

Lithgow started the second half with stories of his childhood in the Midwest and the puzzling blend of kindness and cruelty he experienced as a child there. After removing his jacket, untucking the tails and rolling up the sleeves of his white shirt, he launched into Haircut, a short story by Ring Lardner.

One long monologue, the story is told entirely by a small-town 1920s barber as he talks to his silent client during the course of a shave and a haircut. Alternating a confiding tone with a disturbing high-pitched giggle, he entirely embodied the dichotomy he had earlier described, as the town gossip cheerfully telling a story of betrayal and revenge among the locals.

While the second half was more somber than the first, it was an honor and a joy to share this evening of not only highly entertaining, but personal, stories with such a master.

— Justine Sutton of Santa Barbara is a freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer.

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