John Lithgow is a wonderful actor and clearly excels in the art of storytelling. It is, as the title of his one-man show suggests, something close to his heart. But unfortunately, his labor of love requires an intimate setting. And while there’s nothing wrong with the storytelling, on that big Broadway stage, it’s the stories themselves that get a little lost in translation.
"My father produced every single one of Shakespeare's plays."
Lithgow engages us right from the start with tales of his happily eccentric family led by a father with "a crazed passion for Shakespeare," as he put it. Arthur Lithgow traveled the country, with his wife in tow, young John and three other siblings staging productions big and small, and the glue that brought them together each night were the stories that Arthur read from an anthology book entitled "Teller Of Tales."
The bulk of the two-hour show is comprised of two stories from the book – "Haircut" by Ring Lardner in the first act and, following intermission, P.G. Wodehouse’s "Uncle Fred Flits By." The stories obviously hold special meaning for Lithgow. But even the best literature has limited appeal to a mainstream theatre audience. And as eager as Lithgow is to share them with us, in that giant setting, it all just came across as an exercise in self-indulgence.
"With a kind of exuberant flamboyance."
As an acting lesson, Lithgow, with his warm folksy charm does not disappoint; fascinating to study his pantomiming portrait of the gossipy, cackling barber in "Haircut," and his comic versatility is on full display as Uncle Fred and all the wacky characters in the Wodehouse story.
Audience members on the night I attended seemed split - with some laughing while others were out cold. But hearing Lithgow so lovingly recount his own personal tales growing up made me wish those were the stories he chose to tell.