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Scene & Heard: John Lithgow's 'Stories by Heart' opening and party

Plus, Santa Anita Park opening day.

January 09, 2011|By Ellen Olivier | Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • John Lithgow is alone onstage as he performs his "Stories by Heart" at the Mark Taper Forum. But at the party after his Jan. 5 opening performance, he certainly wasn't lacking for company. Here he's with Martin Massman, president of the board of Center Theatre Group, of which the Taper is a part.
John Lithgow is alone onstage as he performs his "Stories by Heart"… (Ryan Miller / Getty Images )

In John Lithgow's one-man show, "Stories by Heart," which opened Wednesday at the Mark Taper Forum, Lithgow stood alone on stage, acting out favorite short stories from his childhood and sharing memories of his father reading to the family.

"There's magic in the personal connection between the storyteller and the audience," said Lithgow at a backstage reception following the show. Compared with live storytelling, he said, "TV and movies feel like eavesdropping on the real event."

The multiple Oscar nominee and Tony, Emmy and Golden Globe awards winner pointed to the unexpected in live performances, such as the moment that night, when he stopped his narrative to welcome a latecomer, much to the delight of the audience. He also recalled an earlier play, when he suggested — again in a kindly, amusing way — that a woman awaken her snoring husband, lest he miss an important scene.

On this night, however, the audience seemed riveted by Lithgow's stories, presented in a manner far different from today's high-tech varieties with multimillion-dollar, computer-generated effects and choices of 3-D formats.

As Michael C. Hall, Ben Schwartz and comedian Sarah Silverman joined the party, Silverman recalled her mother reading to her. "It made me appreciate her more," she said.

Backstage too were Martin Massman, chairman of the Center Theatre Group, artistic director Michael Ritchie and his wife, Kate Burton; Judi and Gordon Davidson; and actors Eric Stonestreet, Ben Vereen, Vik Sahay and Robert Wuhl.

Day at the races

With their thoroughbred No Stadium competing at Santa Anita Park on opening day, three generations of Williamsons cheered their horse on from the owner's box overlooking the finish line.

Included were Alyce and Warren "Spud" Williamson, their son Henry and grandson Warren.

Nearly 35,000 people turned up for the Dec. 26 opening, filling the grandstands and packing the popular Front Runner restaurant. Still others watched from the exclusive Director's Room, which is reserved for invited guests and where the dress code requires "daytime business attire" and specifically prohibits jeans, jogging suits, zippered jackets and other items that might detract from the elegance of the distinctive wood-paneled room.

There, enjoying hot and cold buffets and a dessert bar of fresh berries, pastries and ice cream sundaes, were Bo Derek, a California Horse Racing Board member and, of course, the star of "10"; Sherwood Chillingworth, the Oak Tree Racing Assn.'s vice president, and his wife Sandy; Arcadia City Manager Don Penman, and his wife, Debbie; Hollywood Park President Jack Liebau and his wife, Charlene; California's former Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp, and his wife, Andrea, and Santa Anita President George Haines and his wife, Adrienne.

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