|Judith Light. Photo: Joan Marcus|
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
Scenic design by Rachel Hauck, costumes by Emily Rebholz, lighting by Matt Frey and sound by Bart Fasbender.
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Sexually explicit dialogue