Judith Light of 'The Assembled Parties' talks 'Dallas,' summer plans

Judith Light from "The Assembled Parties" attends a

Judith Light from "The Assembled Parties" attends a photo session for the Tony Awards Meet The Nominees Press Reception in Manhattan. (May 1, 2013) (Credit: Getty Images)

Judith Light looks smaller, more delicate, in person. Sitting on a couch at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, she seems a fraction of Faye, the somewhat drab, utterly direct and weighty woman she plays in Richard Greenberg's new play, "The Assembled Parties."

The Manhattan Theatre Club production, which opened in April, has just been extended through June 16.

The play, set in 1980 and 2000, tracks two branches of a Jewish family -- one from the Upper West Side, the other (Faye's) from Roslyn. The script is peppered with local references -- from parking hassles at Roosevelt Field to schlepping on "the L-I-R-R." And Faye is fighting for breath like so many women the playwright must've known growing up in East Meadow.

An affair, a ruby necklace and a death rock this family, but don't make assumptions. We may think we know the whole story, but we don't. (Not until Act 2.)

Light, 64, who won a Tony Award last year for "Other Desert Cities," is best known for TV's "Who's the Boss?" and recently appeared on TNT's "Dallas."

She sat down with Newsday days before her latest Tony nomination -- for actress in a featured role in a play -- was announced.

 

Were you nervous opening night?

So nervous! People say, "Ohhh," and I say, "What, you think I've done this so long that I wouldn't be?"

 

They say Laurence Olivier often felt nauseated backstage . . .

Then I'm in good company.

 

There are times when one scene is going on center stage, but we can see through to a room in back, where you and Jessica Hecht sit, having a quiet scene of your own. We never hear it, barely see it. But you clearly have to be "on" a lot more than you're "onstage."

How . . . lovely . . . for you to notice. The idea is that there are several scenes going on at once.

 

So, as the set revolves and brings you two center stage . . .

Our scene is already in progress. And I'm saying, "I'm so sorry, I've always tried not to be the woman at the party having the nervous breakdown in the kitchen." During rehearsal, we improvised what would've led up to that moment.

 

How do you not steal focus from the main action?

It's like . . . crocheting lace. You cannot make too much of it.

 

Your movements as "older Faye" seem so realistic.

You have to be careful not to go overboard. I go from about 53 to 73. If you look at 73-year-olds, they're not hobbling around. They're . . . a little slower. I also have a wig that totally changes everything. And costumes -- the pants are fuller. And padded. The bra is higher in Act 1, lower in Act 2.

 

Is there a distinctively Long Island experience the play taps into -- as opposed to generic suburbs?

Rich [Greenberg] comes from there. He understands this place. And these women. Who are remarkable. But often . . . caricaturized.

 

You mean the whole "Five Towns" stereotype?

Exactly. They've been discounted in a way that doesn't do service to who they actually are. Faye says . . . , "What, I should be like those dames in Great Neck? Awll of a sudden they've developed needs just so their husbands won't be able to fulfill them? What would that get me?" All these things happen to her -- but she tries to be victorious. So we root for her. It's about a Jewish family -- but it transcends that. It's human.

 

Let's jump from Roslyn to "Dallas."

Oh, I . . . I . . . I . . . just had to do it. It's such a different character for me -- grizzly . . . uptight . . . mildly insane.

 

It must've been hard when Larry Hagman died midseason.

I got to be with Larry just a bit. Patrick Duffy, he's so dear, and Linda Gray, they both called -- they said, "We don't want you to hear this any other way." Everyone pulled together and made me feel like I was part of the family. It was beautiful.

 

It's hard to imagine the show without J.R.

My manager, Herb Hamsher, always says everything in life happens by divine choreography. I agree. Larry started this journey, and while he was having treatments, he was there on set. Resilient. But I think he knew he could let it go. It was in good hands now.

 

What are your plans post-play? Summer vacation?

Actually . . . I'm not very good at that. I love to work. Just walking over to the theater tonight . . . it thrills me. I never expected this would've happened for me at this point in my life. And that's why I think this play is so important. It reminds us we have to do everything as if our life depended on it. And it does.

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