Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Off-Broadway Theater Review: All the Ways to Say I Love You

Judith Light. Photo: Joan Marcus
Of All the Ways to Say I Love You, This Probably Isn't One of Them
By Lauren Yarger
Judith Light gives what has become routine for her -- a powerhouse performance -- as a school teacher caught in a flood of emotions in MCC's Off-Broadway production of Neil LaBute's All the Ways to Say I Love You.

Directed  by Leigh Silverman, Light plays Mrs. Johnson, an English High School teacher who addressed the audience as though they have stopped in for a parent-teacher conference. At first, we get the idea that the teacher is a bit priggish, a bit out of touch as most older teacher might be, but that she is passionate about imparting knowledge to her students at an unnamed midwestern school and is up to the challenge of trying to answer impossible questions like the one she just got from a student: "How much does a lie weigh?"

It soon becomes apparent, however, that she is avoiding talking about something -- something that troubles her-- and as she begins to get into the details of her unsatisfying bi-racial marriage with Eric, with whom she was unable to have a child, and a second-year senior Tommy, we start to understand.

Eclipsing the passion she had for teaching was her lust for Tommy and the two had a torrid affair. With the young boy she experiences sexual fulfillment in a way she never had before. She eventually breaks it off, but not before she decides to keep it and another secret from Eric.

Light, as always, is fascinating to watch at work. No one cries better on demand. The wide range of emotions she displays on this rollercoaster of ecstasy and agony is staggering. The amount of energy to sustain the character in the hour-long monologue is astounding.

The play itself, however, did not fulfill my desires. LaBute is a talented playwright (Reasons to Be Pretty; In the Company of Men), but the subject matter of this one is rather offensive and he fails to make us sympathize. Mrs. Johnson goes from being a proper respectable woman and teacher to a sexual predator, liar and basket case. That is fine, if that is where the character needs to go, but we have no idea why we were just asked to sit with her for an hour. All the Ways to Say I Love You -- at least in respectable wuarters -- don't include having sex with a student and then lying to him and your husband to get what you want.  Bad person! Why did I just listen to you go on for an hour? Only to see Light in action, I assure you.

The play reminds me of LaBute's "ten x ten" series aired on television. These short, one-person monologues often had people talking about unpleasant things too. This play just seems like a longer version of one.

Light shows what great acting looks like at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher St., NYC. The show has been extended through Oct. 23. Performances are Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $125: mcctheater.org

Additional credits:
Scenic design by Rachel Hauck, costumes by Emily Rebholz, lighting by Matt Frey and sound by Bart Fasbender.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Language
-- Sexually explicit dialogue

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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