In The Light, a piercingly stunning new work by Loy A. Webb, now playing at the MCC Theater, Rashad and Genesis have been seeing each other for two years. That is saying something in a play devoted to various manifestations of seeing, to opening one’s eyes as much to the pain of others as to that of ourselves. When we join the couple, in Genesis’s modestly elegant Chicago apartment (impeccably rendered by Kimie Nishikawa), it is their anniversary. We know something big is afoot. Rashad (McKinley Belcher III) is alone in his girlfriend’s apartment; she is at work. He takes out two wine glasses, uncaps the bottle, sets up glasses, bottle, and cap on the kitchen counter just so. After Genesis (Mandi Masden) arrives home, the couple banters lightly but knowingly about the day they met. It was at the school his daughter attends and for which she serves as principal. “I see this chick foaming at the mouth over my ripped and tight body,” he says. She says, “I see a little girl hysterically crying. You had [her] hair sticking straight up like Alfalfa from the Little Rascals. Had her in mix-match socks.”
Rashad has them relive their first date: but he’s setting her up. He knows what she wants, what she expects, as an anniversary gift. It is the same thing he wants. And he will deliver on this present, which represents their promise to each other. And to us, the audience: we want Genesis and Rashad to succeed as much as they themselves do. Webb creates a fiercely winning twosome, one so very tender and satisfying that it is a big part of what makes The Light so completely believable and watchable.
The other part has to do with, well, a number of things: the exquisite production, directed with an acutely sensitive touch by Logan Vaughn and presented by MCC Theater at its new Robert W. Wilson Theater Space on W. 52nd St.; the intensely affecting actors (they are the only characters in the play, and are on stage the whole time); and c) again, exactly how Rashad and Genesis see (or fail to see) each other. As they innocently, playfully, relive their past, they are suddenly forced to confront an incident of sexual assault involving someone they both know. From there, the stakes grow ever more immediate. How Genesis and Rashad separately view this incident—the light each of them is able or willing to shed on it—begins to fracture the backbone of their relationship, which must now achingly bend to accommodate them.
Though the play is never less than rigorous in its wincing dissection of social ills, in particular as they relate to women and men of color, Webb’s citing of them, at times, can seem objective or presentational. Especially in comparison to how starkly intimate they eventually play out as the characters claim their individual stakes. And perhaps the playwright’s semi-foray into a kind of social exposition is necessary if we are to see as much of the light—which illuminates, in this play, where the political must meet the personal—as Webb means her characters to see. In any case, the writing, acting and direction are so substantive and knowing, it hardly matters.
Vaughn invests the lovers’ expansive, roiling emotional lives with as much nuance and care as she does Webb’s masterfully shifting tonal landscape. Belcher forcefully, compellingly renders the arc of Rashad’s emotional journey. His is the one which will need to travel the farthest, and though much of his work is inward, the actor never fails to take us along with him. And Masden, who is absolutely riveting as the seemingly unflappable Genesis, peels the essence from her character layer by layer until by the end of the play, she is as wrenchingly familiar and emotionally naked as the violent, systemic corruptions this trenchant, important play forces us to confront.
The Light opened on Sunday, February 10, at the Susan & Ronald Frankel Theater at The Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space (511 West 52nd Street) and continues until March 17. Running time is 70 min. For tickets, call (646) 506-9393 or click here.