If you love the New York stage and its stars, but can’t make it to the theater in person to see a live performance, Audible, a subsidiary of Amazon and the world’s largest purveyor of audiobooks, offers another option for theater-lovers around the globe. You can now listen to acoustic in-studio recordings by acclaimed actors, available for digital download on a full range of devices through the online app, with Audible Studios’ 2017 launch of its audioplays theater initiative. A post-modern update of the old radio play, which enjoyed the height of its popularity in the 1920s-40s, the new electronic auditory format gives contemporary audiences access to works at their convenience, both on- and offline, with or without pause. It also, in the absence of visual design elements, focuses on the characters’ words and emotions, and encourages listeners to use their imaginations, to envision the stories they’re hearing.
This month’s latest audioplay release, Neil LaBute’s All the Ways to Say I Love You, is narrated by two-time Tony Award-winner Judith Light, who starred in the limited-run Off-Broadway world-premiere production in September 2016, at MCC Theater at The Lucille Lortel Theatre (which, in mid-February, abruptly and without explanation terminated LaBute’s multi-year tenure as Playwright-in-Residence and cancelled its upcoming debut of his new work Reasons to Be Pretty Happy; MCC’s actions were followed later in the month in Los Angeles by Geffen Playhouse’s replacement of LaBute’s Fat Pig in its season line-up, also without further comment). Directed again for Audible by Leigh Silverman, the one-woman one-act monologue presents LaBute’s condemning characterization and searingly critical dissection of the troubled mind of a guilt-ridden woman, Faye Johnson, still tormented decades later by the secret she kept and the lie she told as a high-school teacher and counselor, wife and mother.
Light’s shifting emotions are palpable in her voice, as she dramatically recounts the actions that would define the course of her character’s life and contribute to her growing psychological instability, in a compelling delivery that combines testimony, self-analysis, and soul-baring confession. Her quick-paced recollections become increasingly dark and anguished, and her psyche unhinged, as she describes her relationships with her husband, student, and daughter, and the feelings they engendered, capturing Mrs. Johnson’s longing for something more and regret for what might have been, orgasmic abandon and vehement defense of her actions, jealousy and dread, and an ultimate awareness of the “cost of lust, treachery, duplicity” and “the weight of a lie.”
Following the play, the Audible download includes the bonus content of an illuminating one-on-one interview with Silverman and Light. Among the topics discussed are their training at Carnegie Mellon University, Light’s career in television (One Life to Live, Who’s The Boss, Ugly Betty, and Transparent), her return to the theater after a 22-year absence, activism for the LGBT community, and exploration of the needs and internal conflict of LaBute’s character.
All the Ways to Say I Love You provides the right format for an audioplay, with its highly emotional theme, gripping revelations, and single-character script, leaving no doubt for the listener as to which actor is speaking. And Light’s reading of the role encompasses the requisite range of emotions and psychological deterioration inherent in the story. But the release of this particular audioplay during Women’s History Month, and in the midst of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, might make a feminist (of any gender identity) wish for a more positive and empowering view of women than the one presented in LaBute’s work.
Running Time: One hour and 42 minutes, including interview.