Judith Light is enjoying the kind of career she deserves. In other words, at 67, she gets to work as much as she likes, she gets an early crack at quality roles, she is nominated for awards (and wins some) in each medium she tackles, and she is “beloved wherever she goes.” (That last remark comes from Jill Soloway, the creator of the breakthrough Amazon series “Transparent,” for which Ms. Light is up for an Emmy.)
So why would she decide to collaborate with Neil LaBute, that gnarly playwright of unlovable characters? Was life just too easy for her?
For the last couple of years, Ms. Light has been parsing a complicated role as Shelly Pfefferman, the self-absorbed mother of three remarkably unfinished adult children, whose ex-husband, played by Jeffrey Tambor, is a transgender woman. “Transparent” may be considered a comedy during awards season, but it is also a profoundly honest and often heartbreaking story of an upper-middle-class Jewish family in Los Angeles. Season 3 begins on Sept. 23.
In the meantime, Ms. Light finds herself in a cluttered rehearsal space above Eighth Avenue, preparing for the MCC Theater production of Mr. LaBute’s new play, “All the Ways to Say I Love You,” which is in previews and opens Sept. 28. It is a solo piece in which her character, a former schoolteacher blandly known as Mrs. Johnson, tries to justify her behavior to herself — and to us. (The run has already been extended to Oct. 16; then Shelly Pfefferman has to move back to Marina del Rey to shoot Season 4, bubbeleh.)
Ms. Light has a longstanding relationship with MCC, which partly explains why she’s returning to Off Broadway after four Broadway commitments, two of which — “Other Desert Cities” and “The Assembled Parties” — won her back-to-back Tonys in 2012 and 2013.
But as has become her way, it’s the chance to take on a challenging, many-layered role that has her enticed. “Each character I play,” she explained, “I have to wake up inside me.”
She is tinier in person than onscreen, her giant brown eyes seemingly bigger than her waist, her straight blond hair showing just a whisper of beach curl. Even on a warm day, her black turtleneck looks uncommonly chic.