By Meredith Ganzman
Picture story time with John – that is, Tony and Emmy Award winner John Lithgow. An early opener in the Spring season, “John Lithgow: Stories By Heart” is just that.
Adapted and performed by Lithgow and directed by Daniel Sullivan, the one-man show begins by asking why we tell stories and why we want to hear them. For Lithgow, certain tales from a family book of short stories are what kept loved ones together during difficult times, and also keep their memories alive after their passing. His only prop: the book. The set: a desk, a stool and an armchair. It’s easy to remember the sweet simple childhood excitement of the privilege of just being read a good story.
Lithgow created the piece in 2008, but this art is truly in his blood. Lithgow’s father, Arthur, was an actor and local theater producer who would read these stories to his four children when they were young. Over the last decade, Lithgow has performed the piece in 35 cities before coming to Broadway.
You’ll hear two stories during the evening. In Act I, it’s “The Haircut” by Ring Lardner- a slice of Americana with a very dark twist. For Act II, Lithgow shares the hilarious “Uncle Fred Flits By” by P. G. Wodehouse.
With each of the two tales, there’s a story behind the story. For “Uncle Fred,” Lithgow shares the challenging time when he was caring for his ailing father before he passed. Lithgow read this story to him one night, and it seemed to raise his father’s spirits and even reinvigorate him. Arthur Lithgow lived at least another year after that.
Even in a large Broadway house, it’s an extremely intimate evening with the brilliant Lithgow. He performs almost a dozen characters throughout both his stories. They’re people he has come to know like family. And although as an audience we inherently come to the theater for a good story, Lithgow reminds us that we also take them with us when we go. And a good one can become a part of our character, shaping us for generations to come.
But a warning- like any good storytime before bed, these may lull you into an inappropriate theater snooze. You’ll want to grab a coffee so you don’t miss a moment of it.
“John Lithgow: Stories By Heart,” plays a limited engagement through March 4th at the American Airlines Theatre.