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Louie Anderson moves memoir from page to stage

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Louie Anderson brings “Dear Dad,” a show based on his best-selling memoir, to the Strand. (Courtesy American Conservatory Theater)

When comedian Louie Anderson decided to bring his bestselling 1989 memoir “Dear Dad: Letters from an Adult Child” to the stage, he knew he couldn’t capture an audience with an uninspired book reading.

“What would be more boring than that? … I don’t want to hear someone reading me a book, do you?” says the Emmy-winning “Baskets” star and former “Family Feud” host, who comes to The City this week to perform “Dear Dad” (and appear in a SF Sketchfest “Spotlight on Baskets” event on Sunday).

To make his show about recovering a relationship with his unreachable alcoholic father — opening at American Conservatory Theater’s Strand on Wednesday — resonate with fans as much as the book, he charges it with emotionally and physically compelling monologues and reenactments.

“I think what this book and the play are really about is, no matter what, the damage done must be constantly dressed and cared for,” Anderson says. “They don’t necessarily heal fully, but you can make it possible to have a complete life with them. I’m still mad at my dad, and that’s going to be in the play. But I also want it to be funny. I don’t want to leave that out because I’m really funny and my dad and mom were really funny. All those things are ‘Dear Dad.’ All those things are me.”

Anderson says the impetus to turn “Dear Dad” into a play was to reach even more people, who, like him, have suffered under the thumb of an alcoholic parent.

“I received 10,000 letters after writing the book and realized that my struggle is lots of people’s struggles,” he said. “So I wanted to honor that.”

Asking his agents to send “Dear Dad” out as a workshopped piece to prospective theaters, Anderson was elated when The Strand expressed interest. So much so that he and co-creator and director Abraham Geisness started developing it in earnest — for five to six hours a day, over the course of a couple weeks — in an empty black box theater in Minnesota, as soon as Anderson wrapped Season 3 of “Baskets,” which premieres on FX on Jan. 23.

“In the end, there’s a beauty and a catharsis,” he said. “I know all that material. I’ve lived that life, and now I need to present it. I want to see if I can make this thing what I think it has. So when you do that, what greater place to present than San Francisco, the city that opens its arms to everybody. So I feel excited about that.”

Dear Dad
Where: Strand Theater, 1127 Market St., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 10-12; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Jan. 13, 2 p.m. Jan. 14
Tickets: $25 to $55
Contact: (415) 749-2228, www.act-sf.org
Note: Spotlight on “Baskets” with Anderson, Zach Galifianakis, Martha Kelly and Jonathan Krisel is at 5 p.m. Jan. 14 at the Castro Theatre; $30 tickets are available at www.sfsketchfest.com/schedule-and-tickets.

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