An American Magistrate

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The National Theatre Live series of high-def satellite broadcasts beams live performances from Britain’s premiere stage to cinema screens around the world, featuring classy British plays and the classiest English stars, from Helen Mirren to Derek Jacobi to… John Lithgow? That would be the American (but British-trained) actor best known for his stint as the hapless alien in TV’s Third Rock from the Sun, but who is also a much-lauded and, yes, very classy stage actor.

He’s currently in London, starring at the National in The Magistrate, by Arthur Wing Pinero, a vintage Victorian farce of the one-little-white-lie-leads-to-calamity-and-chaos school. He plays an “orderly, tidy” police-court judge whose one night on the town lands him—and his wife, the little-white-liar—in the poky.

“It’s very good-hearted, wildly funny and also sweet and sentimental,” Lithgow told a U.K. reporter recently.

When the performance is screened at the Amherst Cinema this week, there will be a local connection. In the 1990s Lithgow’s parents, after a peripatetic life in the theater, retired to Amherst, where son John was a frequent visitor.

Jan. 17 at 7 p.m. and Feb. 9 at 1 p.m., Amherst Cinema Arts Center, Amity St., Amherst, (413) 253-2547,

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