Playwright: Loy Webb
At: The New Colony at The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. Tickets: TheNewColony.org; $20. Runs through: Feb. 4
Loy Webb's world-premiere drama The Light wasn't supposed to be part of The New Colony's season. But it's immediately clear why outgoing co-artistic directors Evan Linder and Andrew Hobgood rushed this powerful drama into production, and the Chicago theater scene is all the better for it.
The Light is undeniably timely as it searingly taps into the #MeToo movement decrying sexual harassment and abuse. The play also pores over many debates currently raging within the African-American community.
Yet all the more important is the loving relationship at the heart of The Light. Webb masterfully humanizes and personalizes the play's fraught topics through the characters of Chicago firefighter Rashad ( Jeffery Owen Freelon Jr. ) and school principal Genesis ( Tiffany Oglesby ).
The Light in set in spring 2015, and begins with Rashad planning an elaborate anniversary gifting surprise for Genesis in her Hyde Park condo. All of their playful joshing around is a delight, showing just how perfectly matched the two lovers are for each other.
But one of Rashad's anniversary gifts triggers an impassioned response from Genesis, and soon the two are crossing previously unsaid trip wires that could forever sabotage their relationship. Since Webb created such a joyous beginning to The Light, the dramatic stakes get ratcheted up as a happy ending appears further and further out of reach.
Webb goes on an emotionally truth-telling tear in The Light, so don't be surprised if you hear audience snaps to accompany Genesis and Rashad's debating dialogue. Only the hyper-critical might be too aware of Webb's need to present every perspective for fairness sake in The Light, or grumble about her early introduction of an overly symbolic personal prop for Genesis to clutch onto.
The central performances at the heart of The Light are wonderful, and director Toma Langston ensures that Freelon and Oglesby give honest and open performances at all times. Langston's decision to stage The Light partially in the round also strengthens the truthful impact of the play, since many audience members on opening night were visibly tearing up ( myself included ) and having a similarly wrenching emotional workout as the characters onstage.
With The Light, Webb and The New Colony stress the importance of live theater to dramatize contemporary issues that impact our lives on both societal and personal levels. The Light not only deserves to shine on at The Den Theatre, but its contemporary relevance means that it should go on to thrive in other productions all across the country. So see The Light now in its initial spark before it becomes a bonfire.