After 60 years in the theater, memorizing lines is a little harder than it used to be. But that hasn't kept LaVerne Misener Light '42 from taking center stage at the Hoerner Theatre, where she's just finished playing Madame Armfeldt in Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music.
"I was very happy to be a part of it," says Light, days after the last performance. "It had been a little while since I had done anything --- I think my last performance was four years ago at the Hangar Theatre. At the age of 83, to have the opportunity to work with such talented young people again was wonderful. And we got along beautifully. I can't say enough about it --- how professional the production was and just how moving it was for me."
Born in Niagara Falls, Light has been moving audiences since 1940, her sophomore year at Ithaca, when she starred in Maxwell Anderson's Elizabeth the Queen. More than 100 roles later, she's fondly remembered across central New York for performances at IC, Cornell University, the Cider Mill Playhouse, Cortland Repertory, and the Hangar and Kitchen Theatres. She's taught English at Ithaca's middle schools, speech at Cornell, and directing at Ithaca College. She's repeat-edly been voted Ithaca's favorite actress and still reigns as the grande dame of Ithaca theater, a woman whose performances are always vibrant and honest. Robert Moss, former artistic director of the Hangar Theatre and now artistic director at Syracuse Stage, calls her "incredibly professional," which is about the highest compliment anyone in theater can give. She's also "demanding" (a compliment), "instinctive, and intuitive. She's a great lady of the theater," he says. "She's lived it, breathed it. She knows exactly what to do with a line, knows instinctively how to get a laugh."
By the time she had played a handful of roles in junior high and high school, Light knew she wanted to act professionally. Her parents agreed and sent her to IC. She helped pay her way by singing in big bands. She met the man she would marry at the first IC dance she attended. "He was the football coach, and I was a freshman," she says, talking about future IC vice president (and namesake of the Hill Center's gym) Ben Light '36, M.S. '47. "I was dancing with someone else, and Ben just cut in. I didn't know who he was until after the dance, when somebody told me. But I knew he was very handsome --- and a wonderful dancer. And he seemed very interested. We just hit it off." Meeting Ben Light, reviewing the architec-tural drawings for the new campus, and seeing the College rise up on South Hill are some of Light's fondest memories. She also remembers watching two of her four sons graduate from IC, dinner parties with Dorothy and (former IC president) Howard Dillingham, and performing in Arsenic and Old Lace at the Ithaca Festival of the Arts, predecessor of today's Ithaca Festival.
Light also found the time over the years to write poetry. She is currently working on a book for children. She loves to hear from old friends and loves to visit her sons Gordon, who sells boats in California; Charles '74, who worked as a lawyer in California until his recent return to Ithaca; and David '72 and Terry, who run a safari business in Kenya, where she travels once a year. But, she says, at 83 a trip to the supermarket is more than enough work for most days, and the task of rehearsing A Little Night Music was physically very demanding. But she was enormously pleased to work again with director Earl McCarroll (Night Music was his last show at IC; he will retire at the end of the school year) and very moved to receive a plaque from President Peggy R. Williams, commending Light for her "many contributions to the cultural life of central New York, which have made the College and the community proud."
"I love the rehearsal process, and I love to perform," says Light. "I love working a part. It is a wonderful feeling to connect with an audience, to hear them laugh. And of course, I love to feel the appreciation of the audience. Anyone who says they donis just being a phony."
--- Kenny Berkowitz
Photo by George Sapio