What happens when a small chip in your carefully crafted image spreads to crack the entire façade? Will it destroy a relationship that was just about to take a step toward marriage?
Loy A. Webb’s “The Light” at Lyric Stage Company uses a simple, short — just 70 minutes long — frame to build to a dramatic confrontation that explores an area where Black women are undervalued and ignored. Along the way she examines the notion of trust, trauma, and how hard it can be to let down your guard after your faith in people — OK, men — has been shattered. The fact that her set-up involves a fairly ordinary couple — a firefighter named Rashad (Dominic Carter) and his girlfriend of two years, Genesis (Yewande Odetoyinbo), a Chicago charter school principal — only emphasizes the effort Webb’s protagonist has made to look whole.
A simple anniversary gift of concert tickets unearths a past trauma that threatens their idyllic relationship. Without giving the secret away, suffice to say the celebratory mood of the couple’s anniversary and Rashad’s marriage proposal unravels when Rashad’s efforts to convince Genesis to go to the concert unleash the rage and resentment she has worked so hard to put behind her.
While the arguments the couple engage in tap into the emotionally charged territory of Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, and #NotAllMen, Webb’s dialogue can feel too artificial, more like a prepared speech than a heartfelt exchange between two people. She also tilts the deck in Rashad’s favor, emphasizing his well-meaning intentions, his job at the fire station, and the obstacles he had to overcome (losing a football scholarship). The success of the Lyric production revolves around director Jacqui Parker’s emphasis on establishing an ease between her two actors. When the heated exchanges drift into slick debate points, Parker gently guides Odetoyinbo and Carter back to the challenge of a woman caught in a moment of utter vulnerability, trying to find her way to trust.
As Genesis, Odetoyinbo offers a nuanced performance as a woman who has worked hard to avoid letting anyone define her. Within the confines of her tastefully decorated apartment, complete with glass-topped end tables, zebra rug, and color-contrasting throw pillows (the Lyric’s sleek set design is by Baron E. Pugh), Genesis embodies the competent, confident professional who has easily become integrated into Rashad’s life, befriending his young daughter and providing a strong female role model for her. Odetoyinbo has already risen to the “must-see” list of Boston actors, moving effortlessly to this straight play from star turns in musical theater (“Passing Strange” and “Caroline: Or Change” with Moonbox Productions; “Once On This Island” at SpeakEasy, “The Wiz” with the Lyric, and “Fannie Lou Hamer: Speak On It!” for Merrimack Rep).
For his part, Carter infuses Rashad with a bit of bravado and a playful sense of humor, tempered by his love and respect for Genesis. It’s appropriate that Webb gives the play’s first 10 minutes to Rashad, who makes himself at home in Genesis’s apartment, pouring himself a drink, fluffing pillows, fussing about before she arrives. Rashad’s familiarity in an apartment that doesn’t belong to him starts to feel a little presumptuous and a bit arrogant. But once Genesis arrives, Carter makes it easy to see Rashad’s affection for her. In fact, the journey Rashad takes, from goofy, easygoing, if slightly entitled, boyfriend to partner eager to grow through his relationship with Genesis, provides a ray of hope for these two, despite Webb’s unresolved ending.
Play by Loy A. Webb. Directed by Jacqui Parker. Presented by Lyric Stage Company of Boston, 140 Clarendon St. Through June 26. $10-$70. 617-585-5678, www.lyricstage.com.