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The Light

Theatre Review by David Hurst - February 10, 2019

Mandi Masden and McKinley Belcher III
Photo by Joan Marcus

MCC Theater has much to celebrate in The Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space, its gorgeous new theatre center in Hell's Kitchen located at 511 West 52nd Street between 10th and 11th Avenues. Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater's (Spring Awakening) new musical, Alice By Heart, opens the larger Newman Mills Theater on Feb 26, but first Loy A. Webb's The Light opens the center's smaller, black-box space, the Susan & Ronald Frankel Theater on Feb 10. And what an opening The Light proves to be!

The Light, written by Webb, a female African-American playwright, directed by Logan Vaughn, a female African-American director, and starring McKinley Belcher III and Mandi Masden, two African-American actors, is an anomaly in that it exists at all. When was the last time you saw a contemporary drama about a Black couple that isn't set in a police station or a prison, where no one is a drug addict and no one pulls out a gun? That The Light is also a compelling play receiving a superb production with excellent actors makes it something of a minor miracle. That it also wedges itself firmly between the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movement, sometimes uncomfortably, provides food for thought as well.

Originally developed at The New Colony in Chicago, The Light is the story of an upscale, Black couple struggling with a potentially disastrous revelation on the night of their engagement. Rashad, a former football player who's now a firefighter, arrives at the apartment of his girlfriend Genesis, a principal, preparing to propose to her. Everything's going beautifully until Rashad pulls out tickets for a concert he wants them attend that night as a way to celebrate. Genesis is shocked and angry because the headliner of the concert, Kashif, is a performer she doesn't like and, more importantly, a performer she's asked Rashad to stop patronizing. Their joyous evening spins out of control as history is revealed and their relationship is tested by Genesis' expectations and Rashad's inability to meet them.

Logan Vaughn has directed a taught, rollercoaster of a love story that takes place in real time on a gorgeous set by Kimie Nishikawa, with terrific sound courtesy of Elisheba Ittoop, atmospheric lighting by Ben Stanton and lovely costumes by Emilio Sosa. However, at 75 minutes, The Light is ten minutes too long and Webb needs to tighten the ending for maximum effect. But despite the ending, Webb and Vaughn succeed in addressing issues involving race, couples relationships, sexual assault, the plight of black men in society and the plight of the black women who love them. As Rashad and Genesis, McKinley Belcher III and Mandi Masden give extraordinary, introspective and subtle performances. Both register their joy and pain organically, and work together beautifully as the secrets of The Light are revealed. Though capacious in its height, the Frankel Theater is extremely intimate for the audience, which only benefits The Light. Belcher & Masden's interactions are painfully real and there are moments you'll want to look away for fear of voyeuristically eavesdropping on such personal conversations. But don't. You won't want to miss a second of their reactions as their world unravels.

The Light
Through March 17
Susan & Ronald Frankel Theater at The Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space, 511 West 52nd Street between 10th and 11th Avenues
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule:

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