Susan & Ronald Frankel Theater, the Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space
511 West 52nd St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through March 17
MCC inaugurates its cozy new one-hundred-seat Susan & Ronald Frankel Theater at the Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space on West Fifty-Second St. with the New York premiere of Loy A. Webb’s The Light, a slow-building incendiary drama that opened last night and continues through March 17. Rashad (McKinley Belcher III) and Genesis (Mandi Masden) are celebrating a special evening, exchanging gifts and getting frisky in her beautiful Hyde Park condo, which features two skylights, a long marble kitchen island, a large window looking out on a small garden, and several paintings and photographs by African American artists, including one from Carrie Mae Weems’s highly influential Kitchen Table series. (The impressive set, surrounded on three sides by the audience, is by Kimie Nishikawa.) Rashad is a hunk of a fireman with a young daughter; Genesis is a teacher at an all-black charter school. “You’ve been a tremendous blessing in both our lives, baby,” Rashad says to Genesis, who is curious at his sudden honesty and eloquence. He adds, “Specially mine. It used to get me down thinking about all the failed relationships I had before you. But I realized that wasn’t nothing but life pruning me. Just as it would a tree. Cutting out all the old, damaged, and diseased branches that didn’t belong. Making room for the one that did . . . you.” She laughs, and he responds, “Really? I’m trying to have a serious moment and you laugh?” To which she replies, “This is so suspect, Shad. You were one Drake lyric away from singing.” What starts out as a romantic occasion becomes something very different when he presents her with a surprise gift that dredges up painful memories.
Webb’s full-length debut is a potent look at the fragility of love in a #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter world fraught with ever-evolving complications as people walk tenderly around matters of race, sexuality, abuse, and power exemplified by such controversial public cases as the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings and the accusations against such celebrities as R. Kelly and Chris Brown. Over the course of seventy-five minutes, Rashad and Genesis’s relationship, so inspired at the beginning, goes through a series of challenges that tests their future as each one opens up their heart, moving through joy, pain, and redemption. “Please, don’t nobody want you. And the only reason I do is because my biological clock is ticking and I’m desperate,” she teases him, but when she sees he is hurt, she says, “I’m joking, baby.” Drama Desk Award winner Belcher III (The Royale, Ozark) and Masden (Saint Joan, Our Lady of Kibeho) are a formidable duo, each one balancing strength with vulnerability as some deep truths emerge. Webb and director Logan Vaughn (The Agitators) focus on the actors’ electric chemistry, which only intensifies as the friction increases; Ben Stanton’s lighting design keeps the full space partially illuminated so we can see our fellow attendees while also feeling implicated in the characters’ actions, wondering how we would react to the questions Rashad and Genesis ask each other. The play falters somewhat as the end approaches and Webb throws in too many late twists, but the finale hits the mark. Originally developed at the New Colony in Chicago (with Jeffery Owen Freelon Jr. and Tiffany Oglesby, directed by Toma Langston), The Light will leave you gasping for breath — and examining your own meaningful relationships, trying to stay away from the darkness.