First-grade teachers deal with all kinds of scary stuff: pants-wetting, tantrums, parents. Helping a first-grader from halfway across the worldone who has suffered horrors her classmates cant imagineis the even-scarier scenario that Scottish playwright Douglas Maxwell depicts in his new piece, The Promise. The solo drama, performed by Joanna Tope, starts out edifyingbut, after tackling alcoholism, racism, and genital mutilation, its lessons get confused.
London meets Somalia.
By Douglas Maxwell
59 East 59th Street
Maggie is a seasoned teacher with a drinking habit and a penchant for off-puttingly lewd remarks. Summoned from retirement to substitute-teach in a London school, she meets Rosie, a mute, six-year-old Somalian immigrant. Representatives of the local Somalian community have scheduled Rosie for a public exorcism after recess (anyone who wont talk must be harboring devils). Uncannily drawn to the young stranger, Maggie intervenes in the degrading ritualonly to learn that her assumptions about Rosie might be the most degrading thing of all.
If The Promisehad stopped there, it might have been a thoughtful meditation on cultural relativism (Topes energetic performance helps). But Maxwell crams in every possible trauma, dwelling on Maggies guilt-soaked past and her booze-soaked present; Rosie ends up less like a character and more like a queasy symbol of abuse. Teetering between overly-PC and inadvertently offensive, the play, like Maggie, follows good intentions to murky results.