Oscar E Moore

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John Lithgow: STORIES BY HEART – Ham and wry

January 17th, 2018 by Oscar E Moore


There’s some good news and some rather dreary news to report about this Lithgow family “show and tell” Roundabout production that has taken roughly ten years to get to the American Airlines Theatre via its bumpy albeit successful off and on road tour cross country.  A One Act version appeared at Lincoln Center Theater in 2008.

John Lithgow:  STORIES BY HEART has all the appearance of a bus and truck tour.  Minimal set.  Minimal props.  One actor.

And what actor could resist being that “one” actor?  Center stage.  In the spotlight.  “Me” – John Lithgow –the epicenter of my own universe for almost two hours with one intermission.

All eyes and in this particular case all ears focus on Mr. Lithgow as he fondly recalls his dad Arthur – also an actor and director and reader of short bedtime stories to John and his siblings as they moved around the Midwest settling in Ohio where dear old daddy ran a Shakespeare Festival.  He sounds like quite the character!

They were a warm tightly knit family and I wish more emphasis had been put on them in Mr. Lithgow’s introductions as the two stories that make up the crux of the evening are not as interesting as his mini family memoir.

The two ancient and hard to follow stories performed (not merely read) from a family relic – TELLERS OF TALES – which appears on stage with Mr. Lithgow along with the spirit of his dad are THE HAIRCUT by Ring Lardner and P. G. Wodehouse’s UNCLE FRED FLITS BY.

It is only the acting/performance of Mr. Lithgow that barely keeps the production above water.  There is no denying that he is a consummate actor.  A great mimic.  And mime.  With great comic timing.  A man of many faces and accents.  Charming.  Engaging.  But that is not enough as he becomes the characters in the above mentioned lost tales.  At least they lost me.

The audience reacts with much laughter in Act II – not by the narrative but by what Lithgow does with the characters – including a parrot.  One watches the watch to see how much longer this will go on.

Lighting designer Kenneth Posner helps in this respect.  As the stories wind down so do the lights.

So there is a light at the end of the tunnel to alert you back to where you have zoned out from by focusing on the sound effects as he shaves and snips and gossips in the first monologue and goes all out with the farcical goings on in the second.

As he mentions, “One man’s rose is another man’s garlic.”  You’ll have to decide for yourself if interested.

Mr. Lithgow, ham that he is, is wonderful – along with his wry take on the proceedings.  But the production and choice of tales just doesn’t cut the mustard.  Directed by Daniel Sullivan.

At The American Airlines Theatre.  A Roundabout Theatre Company production.  Through March 4th.


Photos:  Joan Marcus

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