Sunday, April 22, 2012

Armchair Audies: John Lithgow Narrates Himself

So, I finished the final audiobook in the Audies "Narrated by the Author or Authors" category. Before I render my verdict I'm going to revisit the ones I listened to last year (Beauty Queens by Libba Bray, Bossypants by Tina Fey, and Seriously... I'm Kidding by Ellen DeGeneres.) I can tell you right now, though, that my predilection for good storytelling is going to play significantly in my choice, right alongside the skill of the narration and the production quality. I've been known to make the "I could listen to him/her read the phonebook" observation, but my ear wants some engaging content along with those mellifluous sounds. (And the phonebook? Oughtn't we to update that chestnut? "I could listen to him read my contact list?" "I could listen to her recite my 16 year old's Facebook friends list?")

Anyway. John Lithgow's Drama: An Actor's Education is so very much a book you can judge by its cover. Or its title, at any rate. Want to know how Lithgow became an accomplished young actor? It's all here. I'm not familiar with Lithgow's stage work or his children's books, but of course I've seen him on-screen for decades. He's never been a huge favorite but I've enjoyed his work, and really admire his range - he can jump from sublimely funny to intently serious and carry it all with ease.   Apparently this all stemmed from his childhood immersion in theatre, as the son and periodic cast member to a father who directed Shakespeare Festivals and dramatic seasons in several theatres as Lithgow grew up. They moved frequently, and fairly often with a cloud over them. No matter what he had to do to gain entree to another set of peers, though, Lithgow retained a close relationship with his parents and siblings, helped in no small part by their all participating in myriad ways with the senior Lithgow's latest productions.

Lithgow didn't expect to become an actor - he was a passionate artist. Until college, when he immersed himself in the life of the Loeb Theatre at Harvard, he basically regarded acting as a thing he did while spending time with his dad. After Harvard, a Fulbright sent him to London for a couple of years, which is where he developed the semi-British manner that stuck with him in the same way that a couple of years in England left me saying "half-twelve" for 12:30 even though I haven't lived there for almost two decades. Once back in the States, he spent his time developing his career as a stage actor and director, and the screen work that I know him for is the denouement of this book.

Frankly, I wouldn't have picked this up if it weren't for the Armchair Audies, and while I definitely enjoyed some anecdotes and have shared a few of Lithgow's thoughts with my recently-bit-by-the-theatre-bug teenager, it wasn't my cup of tea. (And you all know how I love a cup of tea. If you didn't, let me assure you: me + tea = love.) On the other hand, Lithgow is so successful and award-winning for a reason, and he can really tell the heck out of his anecdotes. He has a deftness and a dramatic flair that carried me through the bits I didn't particularly care about, narratively. I would have liked him, as an author, to dig a little deeper into the "how I feel about my rise during my father's decline" trench, but as a narrator he gave a strong performance. His pleasure and his sorrow and many other emotions were transparent as he read. When he wanted to giggle, I wanted to giggle along with him. It was a rich listening experience, and if you've any interest in Lithgow or in seeing the stage from the point of view of an actor, this would be a rewarding audiobook.

No comments:

Post a Comment