The Light--Astonishing Performances in a Stunning New Play
By Joseph Cervelli
You need to venture just a bit off the beaten path to see two of the most astonishing performances I have thus seen this season. Not since the superlative cast of “The Ferryman” have I witnessed such heart rendering performances as in Loy A. Webb’s arresting and stunning new play “The Light” at the Robert W. Wilson MCC Theatre Space. Both actors McKinley Belcher III (“The Royale” Netflix’s “Ozark”) and Mandi Masden (“Saint Joan” “Jitney”) take the stage by storm. They both give such naturalistic performances that you have to reel yourself in and realize you are not watching a documentary but two actors portraying characters dealing with their own relationship and African American issues.
There is a playful enough beginning with Rashad (Belcher III) supposedly cleaning the apartment he shares with his partner Genesis (Masden) in Chicago 2018.They both joke around and it is clearly evident that this couple who are now celebrating their second anniversary of being together are madly in love with each other as they clearly exhibit how they feel. Rashid has a child from a prior relationship and is a firefighter who has enough discrimination on the job to deal with while Genesis is a principal at a black charter school.
The feisty Genesis informs Rashad in no uncertain terms that he has to eventually propose marriage which is exactly what he plans on doing this very evening and surprises her with an extravagantly expensive engagement ring and a ticket to a concert of her favorite singer Raitima that very evening. The way he approaches this is immensely romantic and beautiful with a letter he wrote to her when they first met.
Things suddenly turn slightly serious when Genesis informs him that she defends a white teacher’s Instagram posting that she supports the then Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. While Genesis does not support the now Justice she feels the teacher has a right to express her feelings much to the anger of Rashad.
But then the action turns upsetting for Genesis when Rashad announces that at the evening concert is a performance by singer Kashif who has done much in building up areas of Chicago for the black population. Genesis has a problem with the singer’s misogynous lyrics and reveals some very disturbing news about him to Rashad. Things then begin to spiral out of control where both begin arguing about the current plight of black women vs black men. Webb explores how secrets can bind yet ultimately divide even those madly in love.
Under the sharp directorial eye of Logan Vaughn the performances soar in various directions. From the couple who seem inseparable exhibited by funny and loving moments we are now in the throes of their despair in dealing with what they begin saying to each other. Here is where Belcher III nearly tears your heart out as he realizes the love of his life may soon be a memory. He begins to walk around like someone had pulled the floor from under him. And Masden is equally devastating as she seems to find her world spinning in a free-fall. Can they ever take back what they said or come to some sort of a compromise on their beliefs?
I will leave you there as you find yourself truly caring about these two people and wanting to reach out to them. At the curtain call you will see how much this play has affected both actors. You will come out feeling as they do.
Tickets are available at the Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space 511 West 52nd Street off of 10th Avenue or by calling 212.727.7722.
PHOTOS: JOAN MARCUS