Theater Reviews



"Why do all of us want to hear stories?" John Lithgow asks, launching into his entertaining one-man show, "John Lithgow: Stories by Heart."

The Tony- and Emmy-winning actor's endearing 90-minute turn provides the answer: Stories, well told or adeptly acted, provide a pleasurable route out of ourselves and into other worlds. These alternate universes could be scary (think Edgar Allan Poe), exotic (Isak Dinesen), thrilling (Shakespeare) or -- as with Lithgow's take on the genre -- funny and warmly welcoming.

Indeed, there's something cozy and old-fashioned about Lithgow's approach, as though he were enjoining the Lincoln Center Theater audience to gather 'round the fire.

Sitting in an upholstered armchair, a floor lamp adorned with a fringed shade by his side, Lithgow draws us in with stories about his paternal grandmother, Ina B. Lithgow, who delighted her children and grandkids by reciting poems and reading short stories aloud.

From there, Lithgow segues to reminiscences about his father, theater producer Arthur Lithgow. Finally, getting on his feet, he merrily enacts "Uncle Fred Flits By," a 1935 short story by P.G. Wodehouse that was a Lithgow family favorite and something the son read to his father when the 86-year-old man was ailing. Impersonating the voices and postures of the story's characters, from booming, impetuous Uncle Fred to his cowering nephew Pongo to several amusingly snobbish English men and women -- and one quizzical parrot -- Lithgow brings hilarity to the audience at the Mitzi E. Newhouse.

"Stories by Heart," which LCT is producing, feels particularly geared toward the center's aging subscribers, who certainly were enjoying themselves at a recent performance. Jack O'Brien, a Tony winner for "The Coast of Utopia," has staged the show cleanly and unobtrusively, and there's nothing edgy or controversial here. "Stories by Heart" would be ideal for similar audiences around the country.

That said, there's a good deal about storytelling that anybody of any age could appreciate watching Lithgow. After all, part of the audience's enjoyment comes from the storyteller's pleasure, and Lithgow, here at his heartwarming best, clearly relishes the assignment.

Venue: Lincoln Center Theater at the Mitzi E. Newhouse, New York
(Through June 2; Sundays and Mondays only)

Cast: John Lithgow.
Director: Jack O'Brien