Sunday, August 14, 2011

Drama, An Actor's Education

I had the good luck of seeing John Lithgow give a reading from his memoir, Drama: An Actor's Education, at Book Expo 2011. Lithgow is a likable, popular performer, and the event was packed. He gave a great reading that I really enjoyed. I didn't stick around afterward to get a signed copy of the book (and regretted it later). When it showed up on my Amazon Vine list (Amazon's invitation-only review program) I grabbed it right away. I'm glad I did.

Lithgow's writing is clean, revealing, honest, and engaging. The bulk of this book covers his early years as a student of theater (his father was a theater director). It's a wonder Lithgow decided to become an actor after witnessing firsthand the hardships his father had to endure--the constant uprooting, insecurity, money concerns--but really, he had no other choice; this was the life he was born into. Lithgow spends a lot of time chronicling these early days of his childhood, the plays that he helped out on (mostly as a stagehand, then slowly but surely easing in as an actor), and his relationship with his father, Arthur. Lithgow's father was an eccentric character, and the (literal) cast of characters that made up Arthur's repertory theater gave me a peek into a world I'd never known. At times Litgow's early life reads like a John Irving novel, which is fitting since Irving actually wrote a blurb for the book.

The second half of the book deals with Lithgow striking out on his own, away from the warm embrace of his father's theater group (and the sure work John would've gotten there). Instead he and his first wife head to New York, and the competitive Broadway and commercial scene that awaits them. Here, despite his experience, it is hard to find work, and the young couple struggle to make ends meet. Of course the reader knows it all works out in the end, but it is fascinating to see all the steps along the way, as told to us by Lithgow's funny, friendly voice.

Drama: An Actor's Education covers up to 1980, when Lithgow successfully made the transition from Broadway stage actor to Hollywood TV and film star. There is just a quick summation of what came after, which opens the door to (hopefully) a second memoir. I look forward to reading it!

4 Stars