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All the Ways to Say I Love

Judith Light is riveting as a married suburban high school teacher who confesses to having an affair with a student in this mildly absorbing short solo play.

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Judith Light in a scene from Neil LaBute’s “All the Ways to Say I Love You” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Judith Light in a scene from Neil LaBute’s “All the Ways to Say I Love You” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Darryl Reilly

Darryl Reilly, Critic

Judith Light is riveting in the 55-minute solo play All The Ways to Say I Love You.  The play itself is minor and only mildly absorbing.  A married suburban high school teacher confesses to having an affair with one her students.  The ramifications, complications and psychological toll of this transgression are examined.

The curtain rises and the lights come up on scenic designer Rachel Hauck’s wonderfully detailed office set.  Ms. Light is visible and instantly launches into the tale of Mrs. Johnson.

With her sleek body, lithe physicality and distinctively expressive voice, the blonde Light is charismatic and mesmerizing.  Employing a slight Long Island style accent that’s never strident, she forcefully enacts this confessional.   Conveying varied emotions from shame to defiant, graphically describing her character’s sexually awakening, and describing how she’s silently lived with this deception for many years, she is shattering.

Her enduring career spans over four decades, beginning on the New York stage in the 1970’s and detouring to the soap opera One Life to Live and the 1980’s situation comedy Who’s The Boss?  Light emerged as a prominent stage actress when she took over the role of the professor dying of cancer in Wit in 1999.  Then there were three Tony-nominated parts on Broadway, in Lombardi, Other Desert Cities and The Assembled Parties.  She won the award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for the latter two.  She currently is making a great impression in the Amazon television series Transparent. 

Playwright Neil LaBute is known for his acidic takes on the human condition in the films he has written and directed that include In the Company of Men and Your Friends & Neighbors and plays such as The Shape of Things and Fat Pig.  In these and other works, Mr. LaBute has demonstrated a predilection for an abundance of dark plot twists inevitably culminating in shocking endings.  Over the years this pattern has become predictable and tiresome.

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Judith Light in a scene from Neil LaBute’s “All the Ways to Say I Love You” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

All the Ways to Say I Love You is refreshingly free of this formula.  The incidents are straightforwardly depicted and the circular conclusion is simple.  LaBute palatably sets up the situation by establishing that the male student is a senior who has had to repeat a year of school, so he is clearly a young adult.  It is implied that he is African-American and it is stated that Mrs. Johnson’s emotionally distant husband is of mixed race.   Despite these intriguing elements, the play narratively peaks halfway through and then grinds on.

Director Leigh Silverman’s excellent staging places Light all over the office set in organic and visually compelling ways.  Ms. Silverman has paced the production briskly and fully realized it’s theatrical potential.

Mrs. Johnson’s appealing outfit of gray slacks, a darker gray top and a cranberry colored long sweater is the fine creation of costume designer Emily Rebholz.

Lighting designer Matt Frey and sound designer Bart Fasbender’s expert efforts also contributes to the production’s successful realization.

Theatergoers expecting another of Light’s tour de force performances will not be disappointed. She elevates All the Ways to Say I Love You as much as possible but it is ultimately a somewhat interesting dramatized anecdote rather then an engrossing work of theater.

All The Ways to Say I Love You (extended through October 23, 2016)

MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre

121 Christopher Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.mcctheater.org

Running time: 60 minutes with no intermission

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Darryl Reilly
About Darryl Reilly (549 Articles)
A native New Yorker, Darryl Reilly graduated from NYU with a BFA in Cinema Studies. For the Broadway League, (formerly The League of American Theatres and Producers) he developed, and for five years conducted their Broadway Open House Tours, which took visitors through The Theatre District and into several Broadway theaters. He contributed to Broadway Musicals Show by Show: Sixth Edition (Applause Books). Since 2013, he has reviewed theater, cabaret, and concerts for Theaterscene.net.

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