On Stage: Coming to Light

by Chuck Conconi

Prison, a baby and friendship guide the ‘Lights Rise on Grace’ characters on a journey of self discovery.

(L to R): DeLance Minefee, Jeena Yi and Ryan Barry in Woolly Mammoth's 'Lights Rise on Grace.' (Photo by Stan Barouh)

(L to R): DeLance Minefee, Jeena Yi and Ryan Barry in Woolly Mammoth’s ‘Lights Rise on Grace.’ (Photo by Stan Barouh)

“Lights Rise on Grace” at Woolly Mammoth Theatre, seems to be an edgy, racially mixed, lovers/sexual triangle with all the attendant conflict and rage, but as the play unfolds it becomes obvious it is something much more.

What makes “Lights Rise on Grace” so fresh and effective is the author Chad Beckim’s intelligent script, that at times is poetic, as well as the three brilliant, young actors who understand and project the confusion, pain and strength of the characters Beckim has created.

Grace, (Jeena Yi) a 16-year-old, uncomfortably shy Chinese American girl, meets a gregarious Large (Delance Minefee), a confident African-American fellow student who and brings Grace out of her shell. They fall in love, but Large suddenly, and with no warning, disappears from her life. She is left confused, angry and self-destructive.

Large is in prison for angrily pummeling his older brother into paralysis. His brother had been accusing him of being a homosexual. In prison, he meets Riece (Ryan Barry), a Caucasian who becomes Large’s protector and lover for the six years of his sentence.

When Large is released from prison he comes back to Grace, but both of them have changed, and even a baby coming into their lives can’t close the gap between them. Large is also confused about his sexuality. Riece, who comes into their life as a friend to Grace and the baby, is a strong, loyal element. In Michael John Garces‘ sensitive direction, Riece is unpredictable, but not thuggish or sexually threatening. He actually becomes a member of the family and is there as the gap between Large and Grace grows beyond reconciliation.

Yi is masterful in the transformation that takes place from the almost cripplingly-shy, young girl to the determined, more confident young women. She has proven she can hold her own without Large. Minefee’s Large is a sympathetic man who understands the importance of his relationships with Grace and with Riece, but is helplessly caught up in his guilt and confusing other needs.

Luciana Stecconi’s set is industrial, cold and ominous. It consists of massive steel horizontal gates that are often slammed with loud clanking as if the characters are hopelessly imprisoned. The background sound created by James Garver set the grim mood that settles over Grace, Large and Riece. The production runs 80 minutes without intermission.

Beckim has such a sensitive feel for the diverse characters he has created that it projects a realism and understanding for the unpredictable and unavoidable fate of their lives. It’s also evident that they don’t clearly understand what is happening to them. They have changed and have to accept who and what they have become. There is no resolution in “Lights Rise on Grace,” but it’s an insightful and provocative tale.

“Lights Rise on Grace” continues through April 26 at Woolly Mammoth Theatre, 641 D Street, NW. Tickets are $40-$93 and available at 202-393-3939 and online


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