EMMYS 2017: Transparent’s Judith Light Still Calls the Broadway Community ‘Family’

Special Features   EMMYS 2017: Transparent’s Judith Light Still Calls the Broadway Community ‘Family’
With her third Primetime Emmy nomination, Light once again proves herself a titan of stage and screen.
Judith Light Monica Simoes

It will come as no surprise to any theatre fan that three-time Primetime Emmy nominee Judith Light began her career onstage and continues to craft legendary performances for the theatre.

Her latest Emmy nomination comes for her portrayal of Shelly Pfefferman on Amazon’s wildly acclaimed Transparent (her second nod for the role). She plays ex-wife to Jeffrey Tambor’s Maura, the retired college professor who comes out as transgender to his family.

Judith Light and Dan Lauria in the Broadway production <i>Lombardi</i>.
Judith Light and Dan Lauria in the Broadway production Lombardi. Joan Marcus

Light made her professional debut in Richard III at the California Shakespeare Festival in 1970. Just five years later, she made her Broadway debut as Helene in A Doll’s House. Following that, the actor played Julie Herzl in the short-lived Broadway bow of Herzl. Working regionally at Milwaukee Repertory Theater and Seattle Repertory Theatre, Light was wooed to television on the daytime soap opera One Life to Live, but Light worked her magic in the medium she had been tentative about. As Karen, the bored-housewife-turned-alcoholic-prostitute, Light won two Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Actress in a Daytime Drama Series in 1980 and 1981.

Scooped up by the screen, Light starred opposite Tony Danza on the groundbreaking series Who’s the Boss? as a female ad executive and mother who hires a male housekeeper. Not until 1999 did Light return to the stage in Off-Broadway’s Wit as a hard-headed professor struggling with ovarian cancer. After her Off-Broadway run, she took the emotional drama on tour.

Working on television series like The Simple Life, The Stones, Ugly Betty, Dallas, and Law & Order: SVU, it was more than a decade before Light returned to Broadway. (Though she had done some smaller Off-Broadway engagements and appeared in a Los Angeles concert version of Company as Joanne). Her Main Stem return came with 2010’s Lombardi at the Circle in the Square Theatre opposite Dan Lauria’s famed football coach of the Green Bay Packers. Light earned Drama Desk and Tony Award nominations for her performance as the coach’s wife. She followed that up with Other Desert Cities, for which she earned both the 2012 Drama Desk and Tony Awards. During her Tony Awards acceptance speech, Light proclaimed, “I feel like I am the luckiest girl in New York tonight. I get to stand here… and tell you how much I love you all in this magnificent Broadway community.”

After Other Desert Cities closed in 2013, Light came right back with The Assembled Parties at Manhattan Theatre Club. She again earned both Drama Desk and Tony Awards for that performance. During her Tony acceptance speech that year, Light reiterated to the audience of theatre makers: “You lift our culture with your artistry, you inspire me, and I cannot tell you how grateful I am to be a part of you and call you my family.” Over the years, Light has consistently demonstrated support of the theatre community, routinely presenting at Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS’ Gypsy of the Year, attending events for MCC Theater, and more.

Jessica Hecht, Jeremy Shamos and Judith Light in the Broadway production <i>The Assembled Parties</i>.
Jessica Hecht, Jeremy Shamos and Judith Light in the Broadway production The Assembled Parties. Joan Marcus

In 2014 came Transparent, but Light has still made time for the theatre, starring in Roundabout Theatre Company’s Thérèse Raquin in 2015 and taking on the Off-Broadway solo play All the Ways to Say I Love You by Neil LaBute during the fall of 2016 at MCC Theater.

Never one to slow down, in addition to her continuing role on Transparent, Light is now on CBS’ series Doubt, starring Katherine Heigl and Steven Pasquale, and she also starred alongside Al Pacino in the world premiere of Dotson Rader’s play God Looked Away. The show about Tennessee Williams bowed at the Pasadena Playhouse in California and is said to be eyeing Broadway.


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