Performances glow in Horizon’s topical ‘Light’

Just how extraordinary are the performances of Cynthia D. Barker and Enoch King in Horizon Theatre’s topical two-character love story “The Light”? By now, it shouldn’t come as any surprise to avid theatergoers already familiar with their acting work over the years that there’s very little that either of them can’t capture and portray with absolute conviction, precision and authenticity.

In Loy A. Webb’s invigorating 75-minute play, which is by turns blithely romantic and boldly relevant, they’re a Chicago couple celebrating their second anniversary. She’s Genesis, a school principal, and he’s Rashad, a firefighter with a young daughter from a previous relationship. From their opening interactions, the co-stars create and maintain a breezy comedic rapport and chemistry that’s utterly tangible. And when circumstances eventually take a dramatic turn during the last half of the production, no two scene partners have ever seemed quite so evenly balanced or equally matched.

In the many impassioned exchanges that transpire between the characters, Barker and King are each capable of transfixing the audience’s attention with a consummate aplomb. It’s not easy to look away from whomever is holding court at any given moment, but I gradually made a point of also keeping an eye on the one who was silently listening at the same time. Their articulate speeches are skillfully handled, and their nuanced and non-verbal reactions to what they’re hearing are every bit as rewarding to watch. That’s how extraordinary these performances are.

It’s as though Genesis and Rashad can talk about anything with one another. At first, that manifests in a lot of delightfully crackling banter, with both of them trading good-natured, knowing jabs at the expense of the other. But it means confessing or expressing some of their most private thoughts and concerns, as well.

The play takes place in 2018. At work, dealing with the “dangerous alternative views” of one of her teachers about the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, amid the controversial sexual assault allegations leveled against him, Genesis is torn between her own “complicated” personal opinions on the issue and her professional obligations to uphold school policy.

Credit: Shocphoto Imagery LLC

Credit: Shocphoto Imagery LLC

Rashad, meanwhile, no matter his accomplishments as a devoted father and heroic firefighter, sometimes still grapples with feeling “disgraced” about his failed former football career. Struggling with it became a matter of “feeding my body and neglecting my soul,” he confesses — until, that is, he met and fell in love with Genesis.

For tonight’s anniversary (all of the action unfolds in real time, on yet another fabulous set designed by Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay), each of them bears two gifts for the other. He plans to make it official by presenting her with an engagement ring, and he has another surprise in the form of concert tickets to see the pop singer they saw on their first date together. She has season tickets for him to his favorite football team, in addition to some important good news to share with him, too.

A rather abrupt plot revelation at the midway mark won’t be spoiled here, but the consequently uncomfortable shift in tone darkens the overall mood of “The Light” — threatening, in the process, to upset that formidable balance the show goes to such great lengths to establish, whereupon one of the characters suddenly starts doing a lot more of the talking, and the other a lot more listening. (It’s no coincidence, however, that playwright Webb, and both of the show’s certifiably qualified co-directors, Horizon associate artistic producer Marguerite Hannah and Lydia Fort, are all women.)

In its ensuing hot-button debates about “Black male privilege,” female empowerment, “teachable moments” and practicing what one preaches, the play finally ends up taking a side, after all, somewhat skewing the narrative and tipping the scales accordingly, and then essentially daring the audience not to comply.


THEATER REVIEW

“The Light”

Through April 17. 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 5 p.m. Sundays. $27-$35. Horizon Theatre, 1083 Austin Ave. NE (in Little Five Points), Atlanta. 404-584-7450, www.horizontheatre.com.

Bottom line: Acting tours de force illuminate a topical comedy-drama.