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Theater Review

Courtesy of CRAIG SCHWARTZ

"Stories By Heart"
Mark Taper Forum
Through Feb. 13

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By Vy-Vy Dang-Tran

Jan. 7, 2011 2:23 a.m.

On Wednesday, the Mark Taper Forum downtown dimmed its lights to welcome a nearly full house to the L.A. opening of “Stories by Heart,” which continues through Feb. 13. John Lithgow’s impressive one-man performance, which pays tribute to favorite short stories from Lithgow’s childhood and the parents who first introduced them to him, is a celebration of storytelling, acting and family.

But despite Lithgow’s talent as an accomplished actor, the show probably wouldn’t appeal to a typical college audience.

The first act features “Uncle Fred Flits By,” by P.G. Wodehouse. Lithgow acts out each part in the short story’s 11 lively characters ““ including, among others, a narrator, a parrot, a “pink chap” and his wide-eyed young love. Lithgow’s talent was nothing short of obvious as he elicited boisterous laughter from his predominantly older audience.

The actor, who has received wins and nominations for many prestigious awards, shines on his minimalist stage, with only a chair, a lamp and a couple of stools for props. This man belongs in theater.

“Uncle Fred Flits By” is made personal and relevant because Lithgow frames the literature with a narrative of his own familial past ““ the story of his aging father, sick in bed, weak and downtrodden.

Intertwined with the two acts is an inherent frame tale of a son telling stories to his ailing father to lift his spirits.

For the second act, Lithgow invites his collective audience to dive into the story of “Haircut” by Ring Lardner, a dark tale told from the singular perspective of one barber, during the course of a shave and a haircut.

Lithgow’s transformation from the array of caricatures in Wodehouse’s world to the gossipy barber with a thick Midwestern accent in “Haircut” was fantastic, a tip to his commitment to voice and body language on stage.

Because, for the most part, the audience was well-past college age, I imagine that only students interested in fine acting or semi-archaic literature told with a comedic and robust twist would leave this show satisfied.

E-mail Dang-Tran at [email protected].

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