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You need no ticket to make a place for yourself here where humor, black and otherwise, comes to you from the stage where the human comedy itself is being played, its performance trumping the things dark and tragic and found in the world of literature.
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
  Review of Lithgow's Drama: An Actor's Education
Drama: An Actor's EducationDrama: An Actor's Education by John Lithgow

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I suppose one might compare this memoir to a fine cigar. You fire it up and you're not sure immediately where it's going flavor-wise. Eventually it settles down and hopefully gets mellow, not bitter.

I enjoyed this (Lithgow's Drama: An Actor's Education) though I might have enjoyed it more if I were a psychiatrist and could have real insight into Lithgow's pathologies. Being of his generation (we might have even passed each other by on the Princeton campus, where I use to go to party with my betters in 1969), I've been aware of him and his work for a long time. But the thing is, I sort of avoided most of his stuff, because, in his early days (including early movies) he frankly gave me the creeps. Dressing in drag (Garp) or brutally murdering women (Blow Out) or just being stone cold brutal in a few flicks, his strangeness and coldbloodedness was just too...creepy.

So, after I see he has a sense of humor (3rd Rock) and can play something other than strange or brutal it was with renewed interest that I rechecked his work and dove into Drama. The book (I got the audio version, because with an actor or comedian it adds a lot to hear the author read their own work) goes a long way toward giving a picture of a guy from a fairly elite background, privileged by dint of his father's somewhat exalted place in the theater world as he grew up, later acting in decidedly sophisticated works (Royal Shakespeare Company, et al), who starts scraping bottom (unemployed for a good stretch -- though still living in NYC's Upper West Side; yeah -- problems of the well-off), gets a bit anti-establishment (WBAI), and finally finds his niche in Hollywood.

So good for him, and judging by his work, good for us -- Lithgow is a dependable and eminently watchable actor. Sure, he comes off a bit snobby, which he honestly admits to; he may be over-analytical here and there; and he could have easily infused his story with more humor. But he also comes off as very genuine, thoughtful and kind, though reading between the lines -- or listening between the words -- he seems to dole the kindness out rather conservatively. He is also unafraid to look back at his mistakes and face the realities of temporary failures (the draft dodging...occasionally treating others a bit shabbily...his fecklessness during his first marriage...cluelessness re finances), while also examining the nature of his relationship with his father, which for writers and actors has always been and will always be one of the great themes.

Needless to say, Olivier never did a sitcom on the order of Third Rock, nor offered a soliloquy from Harry and the Hendersons. And his Twilight Zone appearance? Pure pulp. So how did this snobby Shakespearean wind up doing such lowbrow stuff? Sure, it was a paycheck. But otherwise there's no real answer here. For this reason, Lithgow, who puts so much on the line and reveals himself unabashedly in Drama comes off as an enigma. And the thing about enigmas -- they're always interesting; at least to me. But I wonder what Lithgow's father would have thought of some of the "entertainments" his boy found himself in.

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