The Promised Land is entertaining, thought-provoking, unsettling, and at times disturbing. Director and Playwright Lane McLeod Jackson has written and directed a dystopian tale in which the fanatical leader of a small farming community, Abraham, faces a world ravaged by unchecked climate change – a world in which “wildfires burn uncontested, oceans drown cities, and pestilence spreads from coast to coast.” Excellent performances and razor-sharp direction made The Promised Land a riveting and engaging two hours of storytelling.
The play channels many literary sources, but the Bible seems to be one of the chief influences. As Jackson wrote: “Religion has the language to proclaim what scientists have been trying to scream [about climate change]. The rapture has approached, bring out your dead, the flood has arrived.”
Abraham was a cult-of-personality, tyrannical leader of his family and an unseen compound of captives. He murdered, he enslaved, he food-rationed, he population-controlled, and he railed at God. Abraham was the type of guy who could kill a would-be ambusher before breakfast and then sit on his porch and play and sing “The Battle of Jericho” on the guitar. His mantra, somewhat like the Biblical Abraham, was “I rule with a divine mandate.”
Reed Lawson, who was in Desire Under the Elms in Athens, Greece, played Abraham with a mixture of hippie charm and cult-leader menace. Gayle Carney was outstanding as Abraham’s wife and leader of his secret police, Ester. Carney’s strongest scenes were with Tyler Riley, who played Southern-accented (thanks to Dialect Coach Natalie Jones) salesman and interloper Elliot.
Carney had a frightening scene with Riley, that hearkened to the darkness of another dystopian drama, 1984. Carney, most recently seen in The Dog Must Die at Highwood Theatre, also had a powerful mother-daughter chemistry with Simone Les, who played Rebecca. Les, a graduate of the improv\sketch comedy school Upright Citizens Brigade, brought a studied innocence to her scenes.
Riley, most recently seen as Sebastian in The Tempest, did a magnificent job portraying the duality of a character with a life-compromising secret to hide. The question that arose for the audience was: Is Elliot working for or against Abraham? As Elliot and Rebecca fell in love, Riley and Les brought fire to those intimate scenes.
Sean McCullough’s spot-on, mood-setting lighting design, punched up the drama of several of the scenes. Craig Tropp’s set design was simple yet effective – it consisted mostly of the front facade of Abraham’s wooden-backwoods shack, and was perfect for 30th Street Theater’s black box. Tropp’s property design, which included severed heads in burlap sacks, helped create Jackson’s world. Sanja Mankoski’s rustic and agrarian costumes fit the tone of the play.
The Promised Land is a play that encourages serious dialogue about a serious issue. Dunvegan Productions is a company to watch.
Running Time: Two hours, with no intermission.