The Lithgow Effect

By Beacon Staff

I have had this problem all my life. When it comes time to sleep, I have a difficult time shutting off my brain. I started combating this with a simple distraction – audiotapes of old radio shows.

I plug my headphones in, pick out one cassette tape from my collection of old time goodies, and let the story lull me to sleep.

I quickly fell in love with old mysteries – The Shadow, Suspense and Sherlock Holmes – and later ventured into the comedians like Jack Benny, Burn and Alice and Abbot and Costello. Each night it was a new adventure, or misadventure, and each night they helped to distract my mind as I painted in the pictures they drew with their words and sound effects.

Without going too deep into my psyche, I knew this obsession with being “talked” to sleep came from when I was a child and my father would read to me each night before bed. He would rivet me with the same stories of mischief I listen to now.

Last night I had the opportunity to see John Lithgow perform his one-man show, “A Story About a Story,” at the O’Shaughnessy Cultural Center in Whitefish. Understated, his performance was outstanding. In homage to his mother and especially his father, he sailed the audience through pieces of his life connected by storytelling. It was a wonderful journey.

But what shook me the most about his performance was the audience reaction. Each audience member I talked with after the show talked more about personal stories than the ones we had just heard. People talked about their own families. They told me about loved ones who recently passed away, crazy aunts and uncles that never told the truth and expounded great tales, friends who can sit for hours and kill us with laughter, and one even told me stories about her father, a professional storyteller.

I think we are all connected by stories, like a spider web. I can’t tell you how storytelling fits into your life and I barely understand it in my own. Mr. Lithgow’s performance was about a family being united through stories. The effect was a community being united, however briefly, in the same way.