“What is the weight of a lie?” asks Mrs. Johnson, an English teacher and guidance counselor, in the opening salvo of Neil LaBute’s new solo drama. It is not spoiling anything to say that by the end of All the Ways to Say I Love You, this Sex and the City–ish thesis question gets a cute specific answer. As for the heft of the play itself, it could accurately be described as lightweight—or, better, Light-weight: Its impact comes largely from Judith Light’s full-throttle performance as a seemingly stable woman who is boxing the shadows of a sexual affair with one of her high-school students.
“People can talk themselves into almost anything, they really can,” she says, which might be the motto on LaBute’s dramatic crest. As the playwright draws out the character’s story, in a canny slow drip of new information, Light moves in and out of emotional intensity, building up pressure and then pulling back; her practical middle-class poise is dotted with the guilt of a sinner who can’t help it that the flames of perdition make her hot. It’s foreplay of a kind, but it builds to an odd anticlimax. LaBute has written very good short plays spun out of single ideas, including one in the last edition of the Summer Shorts festival. This hour-long work seems like an attenuated version of one of those: a 20-minute play with stretch marks.
MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (Off Broadway). By Neil LaBute. Directed by Leigh Silverman. With Judith Light. Running time: 55mins. No intermission. Through Oct 16. Click here for full ticket and venue information.
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