The Promise, playing at the 59E59 Theater as part of Scotland Week, is a very interesting play that is catapulted into the extraordinary by the wonderful performance of Joanna Tope.
Joanna Tope plays a retired teacher brought in for a week of substitute teaching. During this week, she is asked to allow a ritual in the name of multiculturalism that offends her. But before this, Ms. Tope spins a spell as Maggie Brodie, a teacher who loves students, loves learning and has lost patience in a by rote system now. To hear her talk of nourishing learning in youth is wonderful.
She begins her story lightly and simply. Talk of children and administrators. She is light, funny and in full command of the situations. Her mastery is only shaken when she meets Rosie, a young Somali girl who doesn’t speak. The empathetic teacher in her takes, over as she coaxes this rare child into the world. Miss Brodie is later asked to stand by, as a village elder performs a ritual that offends and appalls Ms. Brodie.
Nothing in The Promise is too shocking or too unexpected. This isn’t the point of The Promise. The point is to show the effect of action, inaction, regret and long bottled anger. A testament to the craftsmanship of Ms. Tope is that Maggie Brodie’s actions make perfect sense in context. The actions are perhaps sad, perhaps empowering, but ultimately understandable and internally make sense.
Director Johnny McKnight makes this play by Douglas Maxwell flow organically from Maggie Brodie. But it is Joanna Tope that brings Maggie to life, explaining her to audience without apology. The Promise doesn’t try to justify or soft peddle Maggie Brodie – she is a strong woman, aware of her strengths and short comings. In less sure hands, this might be a sappy or exploitative show, but this creative teams’ hands it is mesmerizing.
The Promise (tickets and website)
Playwright: Douglas Maxwell
Director: Johnny McKnight
Cast: Joanna Tope