The art of storytelling doesn't require a huge production stage or special effects and props. It can just as easily be captured in a soliloquy at the hands of a skilled performer who engages with every expression, tone of voice and gesture.
That's the idea behind John Lithgow's critically acclaimed, one-man show, "Stories by Heart," which makes its Chicago area debut Saturday, Nov. 2, at the ECC Arts Center on the campus of Elgin Community College.
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Lithgow's theatrical memoir offers a humorous reflection on storytelling as "the tie that binds humanity."
Bringing the Tony, Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winning actor -- perhaps best known for his role in the late-'90s television series "3rd Rock from the Sun" -- to ECC's stage is a coup for the college.
"We're always looking for a good mix of high profile artists and emerging artists," said Susanne Kepley, manager of marketing and patron services for the arts center.
ECC partnered with the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, where Lithgow is scheduled to perform the following afternoon.
ECC Arts Center has brought in a number of headliners, including film, television and stage actor Ed Asner in 2010, comedian Lewis Black in 2011, and Chicago-based R&B and gospel singer Mavis Staples in 2012. The art's center's 20th season, which began Sept. 18, has a few celebrity performers on the roster, including comedian and actor Larry Miller, who is performing "Cocktails with Larry Miller" Saturday.
"We bring in artists from all over the world," Kepley said. "We have artists from Australia and Canada coming this season."
But it's the first time Lithgow is performing at the college, which has been trying to get him for two years. ECC Director of Performing Arts Steve Duchrow first got wind of Lithgow's show at a booking conference.
"We were really excited about the concept, (and) having an actor of such a high caliber," Kepley said.
The college conducted audience polls and received an overwhelmingly favorable response to the idea bringing in Lithgow.
A New York Times' review of Lithgow's "Stories by Heart" dubbed the solo act a "funny, poignant tribute to his parents and grandmother" and a "tour de force that doubles as a primer on acting, including body language, vocal changes, timing and facial expression."
Lithgow's only prop for the show is a family-owned book of tales. During the 45-minute performance, he acts out English humorist P.G. Wodehouse's "Uncle Fred Flits By" and "Haircut" by American sports writer and playwright Ring Lardner -- both family favorites.
"It's very touching, funny and personal," Kepley said. "It features two stories that were told to (Lithgow) and his siblings when they were children by his father and his grandmother."
The show is directed by Jack O'Brien, who directed Lithgow in "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" on Broadway.
Ticket sales to Lithgow's show are moving at a brisk pace and patrons are urged to book early as the theater seating is limited to 650 people, Kepley said.
Lithgow's performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. at the arts center, in Building H on the ECC campus, 1700 Spartan Drive. Tickets are $65 and can be purchased online at tickets.elgin.edu, at the ECC box office in the Arts Center or by phone, (847) 622-0300.