MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre
121 Christopher St. between Bleecker & Hudson Sts.
Tuesday - Sunday through October 23, $69-$125
“What is the weight of a lie?” Faye Johnson (Judith Light) asks at the beginning of Neil LaBute’s All the Ways to Say I Love You, a one-hour, one-character drama that has been extended at the Lucille Lortel through October 23. In her first solo show, Light is extraordinary as Mrs. Johnson, a high school teacher and guidance counselor in the Midwest who is retelling her story about a special relationship she had with a “second-year senior.” LaBute slowly and tantalizingly sprinkles in bits of the truth as Johnson, wearing a maroon cardigan and a wedding ring, moves about her somewhat ordinary office and talks about her somewhat ordinary life. (The suburban-school set design is by Rachel Hauck, the costume by Emily Rebholz.) Like other LaBute characters, Johnson balances between eliciting sympathy and moral outrage. She lights up when she delves into the time she spent with the student, Tommy, as opposed to the more mundane life she has with her husband. Johnson addresses the audience directly, making extensive eye contact, but this is no mere confessional or sympathy-seeking explanation; she is not resentful of her past but wistful and even celebratory.
LaBute (The Mercy Seat, This Is How It Goes) might be covering familiar territory, but he avoids the pratfalls of ripped-from-the-headlines melodrama in favor of a subtle narrative that carefully treads around love and betrayal, abuse and respect. Two-time Obie-winning director Leigh Silverman (In the Wake, Go Back to Where You Are) maintains a carefully modulated but not manipulative pace as various truths emerge in this MCC production, leading to a hard-hitting finale. Light, who has spent much of her stage and television career in supporting roles — the Who’s the Boss? star won two daytime Emmys as Karen Wolek on One Life to Live, has earned two primetime Emmy nominations as Shelly Pfefferman on Transparent, and has won two Tonys for featured roles in Other Desert Cities and The Assembled Parties — here is front and center, on her own, and she revels in it. The sixty-seven-year-old actress imbues Mrs. Johnson with a bursting sexuality and an infectious zest for life, alongside melancholic thoughts of what might have been, turning societal mores inside out to fulfill her desires. It’s a spectacular performance by one of our genuine treasures, a bold and engaging actress who keeps bringing us all to new peaks with every successive play and series. Yes, we do find out what the weight of a lie is, but we discover so much more as well.