fdd835 The Light | a Curtainup Review
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A CurtainUp Review
The Light

You keep talking about black man this black man that, but you're ignoring black women. Women are never believed. It takes thousands of us coming out of the woodwork for people to finally say, "You know what? She might be telling the truth." — Genesis
the light
McKinley Belcher III and Mandi Masden
When we first meet the the two African-American principals of Loy A. Webb's provocative new play, The Light, they are celebrating the second anniversary of their first date in a posh Hyde Park condo. They seem a well-matched couple—attractive, articulate, sophisticated.

Their celebration turns more serious, however, when Rashad (McKInley Belcher III) gets down on bended knee, takes out a sparkling ring from his pocket, and proposes to Genesis (Mandi Masden). "Yes! Yes!" Genesis says in a nanosecond. And why not? They are both in their 30s. She a charter school principal, he a firefighter with a young daughter from a previous relationship—and they obviously are deeply in love with each other.

But the engagement ring isn't the only surprise of the evening. Rashad presents a second anniversary gift to Genesis: a pair of tickets to a local "Heal the Chi" concert that the influential musician Kashif is hosting. Genesis refuses to go. And why? She claims that Kashif's lyrics are offensive to black women and that he's a misogynist. When Rashad asks her to put her feelings aside for this one night, Genesis turns a deaf ear and suggests Rashad give the concert tickets to some friends

This is the time for a spoiler alert! So, unless you want to read the thunderclup out front, come back to read the text in text in gray boxed off below after you've seen the play.

Here's why Genesis and Rashad continue to be at loggerheads with each other: Genesis tells Rashad that her college friend was raped by Kashif but it was never reported to the police. Rashad rushes to defend the musician with "We have to be careful about prematurely accusing black men before getting all the facts." His defense also dredges up his own nightmare experience of being accused of domestic battery. Although he was cleared of the charge 3 years later, it made him lose his football scholarship, and with it his dream of being a professional football player.

A beat later, Genesis breaks down with her own real truth: it was she, not her friend who was raped by Kashif. This stops Rashad in mid-thought, and shifts his black male-centric focus back to Genesis and her long-hidden pain.

The distance between them has grown, however, and one wonders if it's too late for Rashad and Genesis to patch up their relationship and move forward. It's a loose end in the drama that the playwright purposefully leaves untied.

The acting is the real ace of the production. McKinley Belcher III inhabits Rashad with a natural charm, balancing the character's romantic bent with a down-to-earth manner. Mandi Masden as Genesis, has the right blending of back-bone and feminine vulnerability to make her character credible.

The creative team is also outstanding. Kimie Nishikawa's chic set (lit by Ben Stanton) is a tasteful array of modern furniture, pictures of black women who look like cultural movers-and shakers, and decor that could be proudly displayed in any interior decorating magazine. Emilio Sosa's costumes are suitably casual and in keeping with each character's personality. Elisheba Ittoop's sound design adds incidental music that's ever-so-romantic and right for the piece.

If I have any reservations about this two-hander, and I do, it comes down to the dramaturgy and dialogue being a bit too manicured to truly mirror real-life. That said, this new theatrical venture not only speaks, but adds fresh muscle, to the MeToo movement.

This is the inaugural production in the handsome Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space in Hell's Kitchen. Directed by Logan Vaughn, perhaps the best way to sum it up is to quote a paradoxical line from the poet Rainer Maria Rilke: "Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other."

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The Light by Loy A. Webb
Directed by Logan Vaughn
Cast: McKinley Belcher III and Mandi Masden.
Scenic design: Kimie Nishikawa
Costume design: Emilio Sosa
Lighting design: Ben Stanton
Sound design: Elisheba Ittoop
Stage Manager: Erin Albrecht Gioia
Running Time:70 minutes, no intermission
MCC Theater's Susan & Ronald Frankel Theater at The Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space 511 West 52nd Street
From 1/23/19; opening 2/10/19;closing 3/17/19
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan at 2/07/19 press preview

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