Privilege. That word. That invisible reassurance. That dangerous ‘thing’ that comes with entitlement. Privilege — some have it, some are born into it, some have never known what it means. To have it is to have access to a certain level of opportunities that come with it. Obviously not everybody has the same amount of privilege. To obtain it, it’s a quiet battle where you have to take somebody else’s to gain yours. It can be nasty, but once you have it, your life changes. “Promising” by Michelle Elliott delves deep into the world of privilege as it’s crumbling, and examines the pieces left behind to display its scars. Because at the end of it all, like the main character says “What good is privilege, if you can’t use it?”
Directed by Terry Berliner, the play opens up on an expensive and lonely apartment on the 40th floor overlooking the Hudson River, surrounded by news hounds. Inside the luxurious apartment there’s three people: Councilman David Carver (Jake Robards,) his speech writer and consultant Shed (Zachary Clark,) and his Campaign Manager Verity (Jolie Curtsinger.) They’re preparing to face the biggest obstacle David has had to deal with in his political life when he is accused of sexually assaulting a twenty year old. While they try to figure out how to discredit her and absolve him of these accusations, David’s half-chinese sister Gemma crashes in his apartment, bringing with her all the angst of the generation. She also has a very gloomy way of seeing life as a way to death, professing every time she can that the world is ending and asking what is the point. With the aim directed at rape culture, the ugliness of social media, and the obsession with death this nation has, the production manages to give us one of the most exciting thrillers on stage right now. And to the amazement of many, not one big effect was used to create the thrills, only great dialogue and acting.
The script is poignant, feels heavy, every word has a meaning, every action matters, and the pacing for it all to connect is on point. The performances are all around top-notch, with the exception of Jake Robards. While he looked perfect for the part, his wooden acting did not let the emotional moments reach their peak, because the audience couldn’t connect with him. Kim Wong started the same way, but as the production went on she gave life to Gemma. Her performance was on par with Zachary Clark’s whose boyish charm gift us with a relatable person. But the star of the show was Jolie Curtsinger, whose tour-de-force performance as the campaign manager trying to become lover is a spectacle all on its own. It’s these three actors that give the main character the importance that he needs. Elliot’s work is fresh and significant; couple that with Berliner’s blocking and incredible use of space, and the actors didn’t need to be good for this play to be a success. So imagine how much better it is when the actors worked. And as you can see, the majority does.
There’s just another play I felt was this relevant to our times this year: “Paradox Of The Urban Cliche” by Craig Grant. In that play we were thrown into the world of the underprivileged, of the systematically oppressed, the ones that the privileged folks pry on and keep down so they can continue to prey on them. “Promising” is about those privileged people. Beyond the other topics, privilege drives the theme of the plot. It’s because of the entitlement of privilege that the problem exists to begin with. It’s because of the shadow of it that people are willing to stomp on others to get ahead. It’s because of the gain of more privilege that things start to come down. But what if your privilege relies on another person’s privilege to exist? What if you have dedicated your whole life to get that privilege they gives you? What if beyond privilege, you love this person, care for this person, do it for more than he/she is doing it for, and then they turn out to be a monster? What if… The show dares to question us about what will we do when somebody that we trust does something that we cannot comprehend. To question what you would do if you are on the wrong side and the person you dedicated your life to trusting is the one putting you there. What would you do? Will you be willing to lose your privileges? Will you be able to turn on those you love?
“Promising” is playing in the Beckett theater at Theater Row until December 5th. If there is a play you have to see before it closes, it’s this one. From the moment you come in and see the stage, you know you are watching something strong. By the time the lights come up, all the loose ends have been tightened up and somehow you leave the theater with more questions. But more importantly you leave the theater knowing how powerful it can be.
Out of four stars:
Twisted Talk: Have you had the opportunity to see “Promising?” What did you think of the show? Discuss below!