John McGivern’s Winter Tales

By - Dec 22nd, 2008 02:52 pm
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By Christina Sajdak Lucchesi

 

Actor, comedian and master storyteller John McGivern performed his much anticipated one-man show, Winter Tales (presented by Next Act Theatre) to a sold-out house this past Thursday.  At oncehilarious and heartwarming, the production delivers on all counts as it invites us to gaze into McGivern’s personal scrapbook of holiday memories from the legendary duplex on Bartlett Avenue.

Comics have always found fodder for jokes in marriage, family and memories of growing up and John McGivern is no exception.  What makes his comic style unique, however, is his tremendous warmth, sincerity and candor. These qualities and his remarkable talent for storytelling have won him a legion of fans who return to his shows again and again with newcomers quick to join the ranks.

In Winter Tales, McGivern relates his childhood experiences with an exuberance and gregariousness that reaches out and leaves one with the feeling of having been there.  As each colorful anecdote and pithy profile brings another relative to life, one cannot help but recognize a crazy aunt, dashing uncle or doting grandmother of one’s own in these people.  The set functions as a time machine – a stack of LPs resting against a fireplace; six ashtrays scattered across a table amid the cocktails, the good china and the Thanksgiving turkey.  As McGivern tells of praying for snow days at the sight of the first snowflake, of careening down hills on slippery silver saucers, and “grown up” parties in the rec room downstairs, it makes one think.  Did everybody do this?  Together we laugh at the things we find we had in common, both good and bad, and never knew we did.  And laughter is cheaper than therapy.

The audience’s proximity to the stage in this production is a boon.  The intimacy of this marvelous 99-seat theater is the perfect setting for McGivern.  The actor has no reservations about breaking the fourth wall and engages with audience members when the spirit moves him.  Such being the case, there is no hard line drawn between actor and audience, house and stage.  All are one and all are gathered together to reminisce.  Leaving no one out, McGivern interacts with his audience like he’s hosting a party for them, making eye contact with each audience member as if he or she were the only one in the room.  It’s no wonder people leave with smiles on their faces ready to face the cold again with very warm hearts.

Winter Tales runs through January 4 in the Off Broadway Theater. 414-278-0765 or nextact.org.

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