The Light: The Best Local Show I’ve Ever Reviewed
Chester Theatre’s latest production, The Light, knocks the ball far, far out of the park. In fact, I have no reservations in saying that this show was the most moving, funniest, and best-acted production of all of the 37 reviews of local theater I’ve published since I took up this hobby in 2014. Honest. My companion said it best when he exclaimed “WOW!” when the lights darkened at the very end. Wow indeed!
The standing ovation and level of appreciation from the nearly packed house spoke to the quality of the writing, the director, and especially, the two talented stars of the 85-minute show. Professional equity actors Kala Ross (who played Genesis Washington) and Kayodè Soyemi (Rashad Tate) really rose to the occasion. At one point Kala was crying real tears as she made her way through a tough part of the script, and that’s hard to do.
I’ve been noticing a preponderance of local shows featuring only two actors and thought for a minute that this might mean a slow show, what with only two voices.
But in fact, this production never stopped keeping everyone glued to the stage, either laughing at the wonderful gestures Rashad makes when he’s listening to his favorite song or Genesis’ exaggerated and delighted reaction to her man on one knee proferring an engagement ring.
Both of the actor’s physical comedy chops added immensely to the laughs they got, and for the first 20 minutes or so, we had a simple scene, with two lovers sharing niceties and teasing each other. I wondered, where is the conflict between this charming Chicago school principal and her firefighter boyfriend? Ahh, but just wait.
That engagement ring was gleaming on Genesis’ finger and as she danced excitedly around the stage, punched the ground with glee, and took selfies of the big $10,000 rock on her ring finger, all was right with the world. It was their relationship anniversary, after all, and Genesis had remembered, soon bestowing upon her beloved Rashad a cherished gift–season tickets to his favorite football team. WOW! So what did you give me, she asked coyly.
Of course, our man Rashad was prepared, but also coy… he wanted to play around a bit when she demanded to see his gift to her, but he finally pulled out a letter that he had written in 2016, a few days after the couple had met. It was a sappy but profoundly moving letter, saying all the right things about wanting to be her man forever and how much he loved her even way back then. And when he got down on one knee, ohmigod, what could possibly be better than the rock? Rashad had the answer: backstage passes, and premium tickets to a concert featuring his favorite rapper, El Sheif.
I saw Kayodè Soyemi, (Rashad) who is a first-generation Nigerian-American actor, star last year in Chester Theater Company’s production of Pass Over, a much different character than Rashad but played with the same intensity. Kala Ross (Genesis) is a newcomer to the wilds of Chester who has performed on Broadway and truly embued her role in this play with passion.
The likability of the two characters and the wonderfully topical references juiced the play to keep us all interested. Written in the wake of the tense and annoying Supreme Court hearings featuring one Brett Kavanaugh against assault accuser Christine Blasey Ford by Loy Webb (a female playwright), we first sense a little trouble when Genesis recounts an episode at her school. A teacher had professed sympathy for the loathsome Kavanaugh and this was grounds for…termination?
As much as the people at school and the country disagreed with what ultimately happened, Rashad wasn’t willing to completely side with Genesis, he didn’t see what she saw. This theme, the intrinsic differences between how men and women view the world, is key to the rest of the play.
Later on, after Rashad whips out the VIP tickets for the hip-hop show, he can’t believe that she doesn’t want to go….after all, the tickets were three hundred bucks and they had backstage passes. But Genesis was a no-go, not willing to be convinced. She skillfully evades explaining why until Rashad presses her, and she blurts out that this well-known rapper, philanthropist, and boy who made it big out of the hood was really a rapist. It’s simple. Well, to her anyway.
Here we can sense that conflict has finally arrived at her neat and tidy Chicago condo. As we delve deeper into the heated discussion of responsibility, it’s clear that there is a difference of opinion on whether just listening to the rapper’s music is even possible WHEN HE IS A RAPIST. Rashad isn’t swayed, he loves the guy, has four of his albums queued up on his phone, and he still wants to take in the concert, a celebration of their minutes-long engagement. But it wasn’t happening, and things were going to get much more intense in the neat and tidy condo.
What transpires over the rest of The Light is a back-and-forth between what rape means if doesn’t involve your own family, and the difficulties both black men and women experience going through life in America. She gets angry and Rashad declares, “You’re biased Gen,” and continues to hammer her about going to the show. Realizing that the idea of the rapper raping one of her friends isn’t convincing enough, she pleads with him to understand–this guy is bad, and the rape was unforgivable. Rashad brings up his own false rape accusation that ruined his football career, pointing out the intrinsic disparity in fairness that African-American men face.
Genesis is frustrated because, despite the rape, karma never caught up to the rapper, and she’s fighting for a little bit of light, fighting to be valued, and supported. She later brings the issue much closer to home with a revelation that rocks both of them. The tension is great and when the house lights go dark, we’re not sure what will happen to the lovebirds we met at the show’s beginning.
The Light, Chester Theatre Company. Written by Loy Webb, directed by Christina Franklin, through August 6. Tickets