Believe Victims, Listen to Black Women: “The Light” at the Lyric Stage

Photo by Mark S Howard; Dominic Carter and Yewande Odetoyinbo.

Presented by the Lyric Stage Company of Boston
By Loy A. Webb
Directed by Jacqui Parker
Intimacy direction by Ted Hewlett
COVID safety officer: Emily Collins
Music credit: “Natural High” from the EP “After Hours,” Allyssa Jones feat. Apollo Payton
Featuring: Dominic Carter and Yewande Odetoyinbo

June 3-June 26, 2022
Lyric Stage Company of Boston
140 Clarendon St
Boston, MA 02116
The Playbill 
70 minutes with no intermission

Review by Kitty Drexel

BOSTON — The Light at Lyric State of Boston demands its audience believe victims, to listen to them. Trust their stories; lead with compassion. 

In a 2020 article by the American Psychological Association, “Black Women Often Ignored by Social Justice Movements,” lead researcher Stewart Coles said “Black women are often overlooked in people’s conversations about racism and sexism even though they face a unique combination of both of these forms of discrimination simultaneously.”

Coles said, “Feminist movements that focus only on issues that predominantly affect White women without addressing racialized sexism ignore the needs of Black women, who face higher rates of police abuses, including sexual violence.” His research revealed that Black women experience much higher rates of domestic and sexual abuse from partners than White women. Black women are less likely to report this violence than White women.

“The key often starts with listening to Black women about their concerns and what their needs are and then delivering accordingly,” Coles said.

This is a fancy way of saying civil rights movements forget Black women in their activism. When organizations forget Black women, the rest of humanity does too. If your feminism isn’t intersectional, it isn’t feminism. The Light refocuses our attentions on the universal stories of Black women’s trauma. 

Genesis (Yewande Odetoyinbo), a Principal at a Chicago charter school and Rashad (Dominic Carter), a firefighter, are engaged! This happy, wise, unrepentantly funny couple have joyfully decided to join their families. They are elated…  Until a conversation, that should have been a normal spat, unearths decades-old trauma and threatens the foundation of their relationship.  

The Light examines romantic power dynamics, parasocial relationships, misogyny, domestic violence, rape, poverty, entitlement, classicism, and, of course, systemic racism in 70 minutes. Audiences will get to see unfiltered Black joy and the unfiltered misery. It’s one of the most important shows you’ll see this theatre season.  

Director Jacqui Parker has miraculously revealed all of the picky minutia of an adult relationship between equals in Loy A Webb’s stream-lined play. Dominic Carter and Yewande Odetoyinbo are at once intimate confidants, a comedic duo, lovers, and adversaries. Webb writes history into her characters but its the thorough work of Parker, Carter and Odetoyinbo that makes them vitally human. 

I humbly request that white viewers not take for granted the gifts that The Light offers its white patrons. Parker and Webb show us private moments between a Black couple that most white people never see. Understandably so, the White community has historically proven it can’t be trusted with its supremacy. It’s dangerous out there.

Carter and Odetoyinbo are brilliant together and apart. They make a dynamic power-couple onstage because their individual artistic gifts meld so well. Even when Rashad and Genesis are at odds, it is clear that Parker, Carter and Odetoyinbo have worked through their exchanges on a psychological level. This is anti-racist theatre. New England needs more of it. 

Photo by Mark S Howard; Dominic Carter and Yewande Odetoyinbo.

Speaking of anti-racist theatre, the Lyric staff has done some okay work around this production. It has an intimacy director, Ted Hewlett, which tells patrons that the cast’s needs are valued. The Lyric sent a fun “Five to Know Before You Go!” email prior to the show with COVID facts and insights about the show’s design. Domestic violence resources can be found under the wee note from director Parker. 

Fun facts cannot replace a proper dramaturg. I am a survivor of rape. While I was not triggered by Thursday’s performance, someone else could have been. 1 out of every 6 American women is a survivor of assault. One out of 10 assault victims are male. A miss-able content warning under a website dropdown box isn’t enough.  

A devoted dramaturg, working in conjunction with the intimacy director, would keep the creative crew and the audience current on trends, statistics, and the very real state of Black women’s affairs in the United States outside of The Light’s livingroom. The lack of cited dramaturgy is especially jarring when the Lyric made space for a supporter spotlight, six pages of donor names, and a brief history of the theater space. If the content warnings can go under a drop on the website without appearing in the playbill, then the history of 140 Clarendon can too. Appeasing donors is important, but protecting survivors is more so. 

The show’s theme song “Natural High” by Allyssa Jones is a romantic jam. (I stopped writing this review to slow dance with my wife.) Jones has a effortless, expressive voice. If you enjoy contemporary R&B with a splash of Regae and the timbre of Audra McDonald, you’ll enjoy Jones’ work. Jones is on Tidal, SoundCloud, and on Amazon.

P.S. The Lyric Stage is offering a coupon code! Save 25% off tickets with code LYRIC25 at checkout.

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