Troy University alumnus Joel Williams's 2010 play Promises is showing at the Red Door Theatre in Union Springs. Directed by his Troy classmate, Tom Salter, and with a featured role played by their mentor, former Chair of Theatre at Troy, David Dye, it is a homecoming of sorts for Mr. Williams.
Set in Fontana Lake, North Carolina in 1993 -- with flashbacks to the 1930s and 1940s when the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) displaced many of the rural inhabitants to build a dam -- Williams invites his audiences into the lives of the local families as they observe "Decoration Day" by visiting the graves of their ancestors and re-telling their stories to keep their memories alive.
Joseph Thompson [Craig Stricklin] attends for his first time to honor a promise made to his mother: one of the many "promises" of the play's title. -- Through the prodding of Liz Andrews [Kim Graham], who befriends the stranger in their midst, Joseph's heritage is gradually revealed in a kind of detective story that slowly discloses details of his life, details that become increasingly more intriguing as we learn the secrets of his birth and upbringing, and the promises of his parents, siblings, and friends.
While Joseph and Liz serve as narrators and commentators (Mr. Stricklin and Ms. Graham give their best to make it dramatically interesting), the flashback sequences provide the dramatic interest and impact. -- Jacob Thompson [Joseph Crawford] fell in love with Leah [Eve Harmon] in high school, and his adolescent promise to love her forever was gently rebuffed by Leah who wanted only to remain friends as she needed to see more of the world and build a career away from the small community that Jacob preferred.
Some time after Leah's departure, Jacob inherited land from Virgil Jenkins [David Dye] and married Rachel [Sarah Smith]. Happy at first, two still-born children strained their relationship; though committed to his marriage, cash-strapped Jacob left town to work for the TVA where by chance he re-met Leah and rekindled their relationship.
With its meandering style and sometimes slow pace, the script could benefit from judicious editing to enhance character relationships and omit lengthy exposition and extraneous characters, thereby giving more focus to the central plot. -- No spoilers here; there are several unexpected events that are not revealed till close to the end.
Mr. Crawford creates a sympathetic character in Jacob. We believe in his essential goodness and the conflicted decisions he makes throughout; and his truthful depiction is simple and straightforward. Ms. Smith's role of Rachel is also an honest portrayal. Ms. Harmon is so natural in the role of Leah, that one is hardly aware of her acting.
Mark Moore in the role of Quill Hopkins -- a perennially drunk aggressor, and a key to the surprise ending -- seems to relish the role; his unsubtle nastiness verges on caricature. And Lonnie Crawford as Jacob's brother Aaron draws our sympathies in a solid performance.
In one of the play's strongest scenes, when Virgil promises his land to Jacob both as a reward for the young man's hard work and for his innate goodness, Mr. Dye provides the most natural performances on stage. The connection between him and Mr. Crawford is so complete and truthful, that the scene and the character of Virgil remain with us till the end.
Promises continues this weekend only at the Red Door.