Theater review: “Promises” at SART

Photo courtesy of SART

The old adage “don’t make promises you can’t keep” resonates throughout the profession premiere of Promises (the play was staged as a student production at Appalachian State University in 2013). It is the 65th such premiere in Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre’s 40 years.

Written by Appalachian State professor Joel Williams and directed by Screen Artists Co-op’s Jon Menick, Promises is a gripping, well-crafted tale of love, loss, betrayal, reconciliation and acceptance, set around a cemetery near Bryson City. There, entire towns were consumed by Lake Fontana and the Tennessee Valley Authority flooding that helped to modernize the region.

Set alternately in 2014 and the 1940s, Promises finds a set-in-his-ways Jospeh on a journey to discover the truth of his birth. Promises made by his father set into motion a chain of events that have remained secret for nearly 70 years. Andrew Trickle plays the deeply Appalachian Joseph with such conviction that you would never guess Trickle is actually a native of England.

In intertwined flashbacks, we also follow the journey of Joseph’s father, Jacob. Duty McKeelan’s Jacob is a man of deep principles and sincerity who is tested by the challenges of a rapidly changing world. McKeelan is an appealing actor, and the audience feels every ounce of his pain as he loses his true love, Leah, when she leaves for Asheville. Emerald Robinson gives a moving turn as the lost love who will forever haunt Jacob. Jacob eventually finds love with Rachel (wonderfully played by Mara Briendel), and attempts to begin a new life amidst the changes coming to everyone’s lives in this small community.

Under Menick’s direction the play moves briskly, but the scenes that resonate the most are those that slow down and live in the moment with the characters. When Jacob makes a promise to old farmer Jenkins (sweetly rendered by Joe Narsavage) that seems innocent and sincere enough, it sets off a series of consequences that are both emotionally wrenching and shocking.

The only complaint I have is that some of the musical underscoring felt a bit too contemporary, and out of sync with a few highly-charged scenes late in the show. Beyond that, Promises is one of the best productions I’ve seen this year.  The play runs through Sunday, Aug. 3. Shows are Thursdays at 2:30 and 7:30, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, and Sundays at 2:30. $25.


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Jeff Messer
playwright, actor, director and producer, Jeff Messer has been most recently known as a popular radio talk show host. He has been a part of the WNC theatre scene for over 25 years, and actively works with and supports most of the theatres throughout the region. Follow me @jeffdouglasmess

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.