Monday, August 15, 2011

Drama: An Actor's Education by John Lithgow

Why I read it: An unexpected interest in teh author's life. I'd been following him for more than two decades without realizing it.

Summary: Actor John Lithgow's autobiography covers everything from his first stage appearance at age 2 to the present day, detailing the influences on his life that have created the actor he has become today.

My Thoughts: My first remembered experience with John Lithgow was watching the movie The World According to Garp. Although I was far too young, at 11 years old, to truly understand the finer points of the film (and I still don't understand most of what John Irving wrote about; I also saw Hotel New Hampshire around that time and was equally baffled, though Witches of Eastwick certainly was a blast), just the notion of tall, broad-shouldered Lithgow playing the cross-dressing Roberta Muldoon, a former football player, was enough to make me remember the name and the face.

Then, despite the fact that he played a major role in Footloose, one of the signature movies of my generation, I lost track of John Lithgow for years. I now know why.

Movies are not his love. It's "legitimate" theater, backdrops and footlights, blocked-out scenes, curtain calls and final bows that make him feel at home. And what a life he has led.

The story begins with his father's passion for the theater, and how that passion was instilled in the son. Throughout his life, especially the younger years, Lithgow's dad is there, sometimes in the forefront as a co-conspirator, sometimes in the background with a word of encouragement, and sometimes without. I wouldn't describe their relationship as a roller coaster, as the love never faded, but distance, both physically and emotionally, wavers and changes through time.

I'm sad knowing that I may never see the best of John Lithgow. Theater is such an in-the-moment experience, and, while he is still hard at work, some of the roles he describes in his book are now simply gone, remembered by the relative few who had the pleasure of seeing them live. Yes, there were times when he shouted "You're gorgeous!" standing in front of a mirror as Dr. Dick Solomon in the television show 3rd Rock from the Sun that made me fall out of my chair, and the moment he shared with John Cleese on a golf course on that show is permanently etched in my memory, but these were mere tiny glimpses into the actor's life.

Personally, there are the local connections, his roots in Massachusetts. There's a momentary rush of the blood when a celebrity mentions a local landmark, despite the silliness of thinking it's anything special. They inhabit the same earth we do, of course. But the notion that as a child he played on Laurel Hill in Stockbridge puts a smile on my face. I climbed Laurel Hill this year for the first time; adding Lithgow's footsteps brings historicity to that already special place.

It's wonderful to read about a passionate person chasing down their dreams, and this book was one of those experiences.

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