In Loy A. Webb’s The Light, Rashad (McKinley Belcher III) is the first to enter. He sheds his outerwear and starts tidying up designer Kimie Nisikawa’s version of a let’s-move-in-this-minute condo in Chicago’s Hyde Park.
He hasn’t done much when Genesis (Mandi Masden) arrives, sheds her outerwear, too, and begins chiding Rashad for pretending to clean what is evidently her apartment. He’s never had the incentive before, she claims. What does he want, what has he broken, she wants to know.
For the next few minutes the couple, who are obviously in a relationship of some meaningful length, bicker unthreateningly. She’s had a hard day at her all-black charter school where she’s the principal. She’s had to deal with the fuss churned up when a white teacher announced she was behind Brett Kavanaugh. Loy, you see, has very carefully set the proceedings on October 8, 2018, when people were talking about these things.
Rashad doesn’t quite understand why Genesis is reluctant to fire the Kavanaugh supporter, while she insists such an action isn’t legally available to her. But the disagreement fades, and the pair are off to other topics that have a comfortable romcom feel.
The important question is whether they both know that this day is the first anniversary of their meeting and whether they have gifts for each other, Genesis suspects that Rashad has forgotten, but Rashad surprises her with a gift she’s wanted more than anything else.
The detailed account above is intended to explain why anyone who’s ever seen a play has to know the initial sweet-and-low-down tenor of this one means something is going to go dreadfully wrong soon or else there would be no play. More than that, there’s the strongly hinted possibility that whatever goes wrong will lead to nothing less than a drastic fadeout.
Yes, this is one of those plays: a work where the audience members get ahead of the playwright and then have to sit waiting for the inevitable to unfold. There is a mitigating factor, of course: The inevitable can take many forms. And the patrons are thinking The Light had better be one of the well-wrought types.
Luckily—phew!—The Light is one of the well-wrought sort. More than that, it deals with a #MeToo subdivision that couldn’t be more of the moment and perhaps couldn’t be more of too many future moments. The play deals ferociously with the ongoing resentment black women have for black men—not, as Loy and legions of others see it. without cause (cf. Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Not Enough.)
By extrapolation, it could be mooted that all women have issues with all men for the same reasons—but playwright Webb pointedly keeps The Light black-centric, maybe on the old tenet of good fiction that you wrote about what you know.
Going into too may particulars of The Light would be risking too many spoilers, but it should suffice to say that Rashad’s second anniversary gift (the first won’t be revealed) is a pair of tickets to a concert that night at which one of Genesis’ favorite performers is appearing.
This is jubilant news to Genesis but only momentarily, as other details of the evening cause complications and conflict. Giving away any more of Webb’s specifics is unfair to her, but they’re shockers, all right.
So The Light—it’s light that Genesis craves—goes predictably awry, but does so with such heart-breaking gravitas that patrons will have to appreciate her for grappling with such daunting and difficult truths.
Abundant thanks to director Logan Vaughn, too, and the strapping Belcher and the beautiful Masden. They all dive bravely into this emotional maelstrom. They handle the lighter moments with blithe dexterity, yes, but their approach to the tougher twists is inspiring. It’s one of those situations where spectators leave awed that actors choose to go through such draining exercises eight times weekly.
(Incidentally, since the given names Loy and Logan may not be immediately gender specific, it seems appropriate to note that both playwright and director are women.)
When Webb was writing The Light and when the MCC deciders programmed it as the first production in the smaller house in their dandy new West 52nd Street building, they couldn’t have known that R. Kelly would be making renewed headlines for his debated handling of the many women in his life. So it’s weirdly serendipitous that his current public presence renders The Light that much more, uh, illuminating.
The Light opened February 10, 2019, at the MCC Theater Space and runs through March 17. Tickets and information: mcctheater.org