Robert Bush 6:31 p.m., May 18
When he appeared in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at the Old Globe a few years back, John Lithgow received a heartfelt ovation - and some shouts of welcome - at his first entrance. The performance, as expected, was elastic, graceful, and true.
Actors in the audience would have been both appreciative and, deep down, molten with envy. Here's someone who has made it. He won a Tony for his first Broadway show (The Changing Room, 1972). He's performed in every medium and every kind of role, from goofball to serial killer. And he has what may be an actor's most cherished status: he's reached the point where he can choose roles; he doesn't have to trudge across town or country auditioning and working odd - even strange - jobs and praying for an aperture of opportunity to transform his career.
Lithgow's new memoir, Drama: An Actor's Education, dispels that, and other illusions. The book, like its author, is frank, literate, and funny. Memoirs often boast about successes and failings (as if to say "even my misery's more epic than yours!"). Lithgow, by contrast, is not star-struck about himself. He owns up to the highs and the lows with an unadorned honesty that recalls the confessional prose of Ingmar Bergman.
Lithgow had a seemingly clear path to the stage: his father was an artistic director; he did a great deal of acting while at Harvard; he trained at a British academy ("I was...well, gobsmacked"). And yet he spent years of struggling, doing whatever to land a job. "By its very nature," he says, "a theater career is disorderly" His path serves as testimony to dogged persistence.
He married young, then had affairs, which eventually shredded a 10-year marriage and false self-image. He had a torrid, year-long affair with Liv Ullman. But instead of widening his stance and pounding his chest, Lithgow describes the relation, and her "heartbreaking beauty," from multiple, often conflicting, angles.
Lithgow even exposes the myth of name actors able to pick and choose their roles. When Joseph Papp talked him into doing the ultimately forgettable Salt Lake City Skyline a the Public Theater, because of the schedule-conflict, Lithgow had to turn down the ripest plum on the tree: Jerry in Harold Pinter's Betrayal.
He spent much of his early life, he says, cultivating a dutiful image and eager to please. "God forbid that anyone should have known the real me."
Drama reveals the "real" one.