Golden boy David Carver, Democrat from the Upper West Side of Manhattan, is a shoo-in for reelection to his seat in the New York City Council which is only one step of the way along in the fabulous political career that is predicted for him: speaker of the council, mayor, senator, vice president and finally president. Son of a famous politician father who died in a plane crash while he was Ambassador to Hong Kong, David seems to have it all: looks, money, charisma, popularity, and privilege.
And then a 20-year-old college student that he met in a bar a few nights before accuses him of rape. With him in his new, high-tech apartment on the 40th floor of a West Side luxury building with a view of the Hudson River are Verity Jones, his campaign manager, and Shed Walker, his speech writer and policy adviser, both of whom are longtime friends from David’s college days. When one of David’s staffers discovers that the student has had an abortion, it becomes an ethical issue whether to reveal it or keep mum.
While they are debating the morality of making use of this piece of information, there is a knock at the door and David’s half-sister Gemma arrives, apparently having left Stanford University without telling her guardian brother. However, Gemma, who is majoring in the Earth Systems Program and how the planet is being destroyed by mankind, is also 20 years old and identifies with the accuser/victim. When Gemma and 40-year-old Shed are attracted to each other we have a parallel to David and his accuser. However, to complicate matters further, Verity has been in love with David for years while he has pursued her former roommate Nora, and best friend Shed would do anything for David. All are virtual prisoners in the apartment from the waiting press downstairs as well as the innocent victims of information being rightly or wrongly put out on the internet.
Aside from the obvious theme of morality in politics, the play also deals devastatingly with issues of privacy in public life and in the information age. Can David keep the news of the abortion secret? How will the press deal with his Asian sister showing up? Which side are the pundits on the web on? Can the Carver campaign ride out the storm? The contemporary issue of date rape is also explored thoroughly. Promising ends with a sensational denouement which will leave the audience with much to think about.
The play is both plot and cast driven. Curtsinger is a powerhouse as the efficient, pragmatic Verity for whom nothing is too good for her candidate. While at times Wong’s Goth Gemma as the voice of doom gets a bit tiresome, she is very convincing as a pessimistic college student who knows only the downside to everything. As Shed, a published poet, Clark gives a sensitive performance in a difficult role. Robards is suavely bland in the manner of a politician who never commits himself for most of the play, but when he finally reveals his soul near the play’s climax we discover what is behind the mask. Director Berliner has obtained three-dimensional performances which hone in on all of the characters’ salient traits.
James J. Fenton’s minimalist apartment setting in black, charcoal, grey and white is the latest is contemporary chic. The costumes by Theresa Snider-Stein are mostly color-coordinated with the setting. Paul Miller and Kirk Fitzgerald’s lighting remains unobtrusive throughout. Scott Stauffer is responsible for the realistic sound design from the buzzers to the drone heard outside the windows.
While Michelle Elliott’s Promising may be a bit too long for its story line , director Terry Berliner keeps upping the tension as the events spin out of control. Promising remains a fascinating investigation into ethics in politics and the social media as well as what has become known as gender politics.
Promising (through December 5, 2015)
InProximity Theatre Company
The Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row
410 W. 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-947-8844 or visit http://www.inproximity.org
Running time: one hour and 50 minutes with no intermission