by Macey Levin
Enduring love requires people to look into themselves in order to realize who they really are or what they have become in relationship to each other. In Loy A. Webb’s riveting The Light at Chester Theatre Company in Chester, Massachusetts, Genesis and Rashad confront themselves and their pasts as they struggle to understand what each partner needs deep down as a human being. The play is at first a light comedy then a romance and then a heart-stopping drama.
Set in a pleasant condo living room, the unmarried couple live together and are in the process of creating their future. Celebrating the anniversary of the day they met, Genesis (Kala Ross,) the principal of a charter school, and Rashad (Kayode Soyemi,) a firefighter, exchange meaningful gifts as they hug, kiss, laugh and celebrate their joy. Rashad surprises Genesis with highly valued tickets to a concert by the rapper Kashif. Genesis refuses to go decrying the rapper’s misogynistic and violent lyrics. She supports this by telling Rashad about Kashif’s less than stellar past, and gradually reveals very personal details about the abuse that Black Women have long battled against. Not that he’s on Kashif’s side, but Rashad says they should hear his version of the story citing Kashif’s contributions to black culture, students and various organizations. In fact, Kashif is exemplary as a successful black man who celebrates his own community. Though the dialogue between the two explores the themes of the Me-Too movement and Black Lives Matter, rather than preach it delves into the deepest fears and traumas of what it means to be marginalized in America.
Rashad has also been victimized by women which, he implies, is because he is a black man who couldn’t live up to their standards. Genesis protests that black women are considered even more lowly than black men. Their debate is tempered by moments of concern and disenchantment as they grapple with each other’s strongly held beliefs.
Ms. Webb’s dialogue is real and compelling making the audience feel as if it is eavesdropping. The acting is exceptional. Mr. Soyemi is alone onstage during the first few minutes where he dances and clowns while Kashif’s music is being played. When Ms. Ross enters the love is palpable as they banter and tease and look at each other with their faces aglow. This first third of the play is funny and charming, but as the relationship deteriorates there is great empathy for both people. Their love and their futures disintegrate in front of our eyes. Ms. Ross’ description of female abuse is fraught with such heartfelt pain that it is almost impossible to hear. She gives voice to one of the themes when she hauntingly says, “…some light. Just a little bit of light in all this darkness.” It seems to refer to her psychological state as well as to Black frustration in American society. The ambiguous ending is very affecting and effective.
Christina Franklin’s direction is impeccable without a single false note. The latter part of the play is layered by silences that are replete with tension and confusion. They give these scenes a depth of emotion that can’t be replicated by words. Her staging is indicative of the unraveling of their lives. The early intimacies are contrasted with the space and furniture that come to separate the couple as they argue. In The Niceties, which Ms. Franklin directed for Chester a couple of years ago, she used the same techniques that also enhanced the relationships in that play.
Ms. Franklin also designed the costumes which suggest, especially for Ms. Ross, her debilitation. The set by Suzu Sakal accurately represents a middle-class apartment, neat with Danish Modern furniture and pleasing pops of color mirrored in some of the paintings and costumes. James McNamara’s sound design is limited to Kashif’s recordings. The lighting, designed by Lara Dubin, is subtle supporting the emotional moments and barriers to this couples’ commitment.
The selection ofThe Light as the third play of Chester’s season under the artistic direction of James Barry and Tara Franklin continues the impressive work for which this theatre is known. Do not miss this remarkable production.
The Light by Loy A. Webb; Director: Christina Franklin; Cast: Kala Ross (Genesis) Kayode Soyemi (Rashad); Set Design: Suzi Sakal; Costume Design: Christina Franklin; Lighting Design: Lara Dubin; Sound Design: James McNamara; Intimacy Coordinator: Kelsey Rainwater; Stage Manager: Mark Johnson; Running time: 85 minutes, no intermission; 7/27//23 -8/6/23; 15 Middlefield Rd., Chester, MA 01011; www.chestertheatre.org; 413-354-7770