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The WORK of Art

THE PROMISE - Brent Watts

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THE PROMISE

by Brent Watts

(Setting: the Appalachian dreamscape. If it matters, it exists hereASH, a human has suddenly appeared next to VIRGIL, a kind man, shrouded in green.

 

ASH 

Where am I? 

 

VIRGIL 

Don’t worry, Ash. You’re not far from home. You never are, really. Never will be, either.  

 

ASH 

Do I know you? 

 

VIRGIL 

Do you know the ginkgo? The pine? The oak and the maple?  

 

ASH 

Yes? 

 

VIRGIL 

Then you know me. For I am the trees, but I am also the grass, the kudzu, the flowers, and the fern. I am the corn and I am the tomato. When I am old, I am the coal that lights your home and keeps you warm.  

 

ASH 

Oh. Okay. What should I call you?  

 

VIRGIL 

You may call me Virgil, if you like. 

 

ASH 

Is it just us then, Virgil?  

 

(ENTER SHRILDY. She is aloof, but not unkind. She wears cool, blue colorsAt her side is a dog, a mutt of indeterminable breed.)   

 

SHRILDY 

Not exactly. Do you know who I am?  

 

ASH  

I might. Is your name…Shrildy?  

 

SHRILDY 

Indeed, it is. I was there with you, in the womb. I am the lakes, the river, the ponds and the creeks. I am the rain on the roof, the snow on the ground, and the sweat on your brow. I am the puddle, and I am the flood.  

 

ASH 

Is that your…. dog? That is a dog, right?  

 

SHRILDY 

Yes. He doesn’t really have a name, but you can call him whatever you like, and he’ll respond.  

 

ASH 

Is he friendly?  

 

SHRILDY 

Very.  

 

ASH 

He seems familiar 

 

VIRGIL 

He should. He was your dog.  

 

ASH 

He was? 

 

VIRGIL 

Well, yes, of course. He is every dog, and every creature.  

 

(A beat. Petting the dog, ASH really begins to ponder the situation.)  

 

ASH 

So….am I dead, then?  

 

VIRGIL 

Goodness, no!  

 

ASH 

Am I dying? 

 

SHRILDY 

No, not that either.  

 

VIRGIL 

We just wanted to talk to you.  

 

ASH 

Talk to me? About what?  

 

VIRGIL 

We wanted to, uh, check in with you, as it were. 

 

ASH 

Pardon? 

 

SHRILDY 

Ash, please, try to remember. Someone made us a promise, a long time ago.  

 

ASH 

A promise? 

 

SHRILDY 

Just try to remember. Like you did with my name. Think back. Think back as far as you can, then go further.  

 

(A beat. The lighting should convey the seriousness and depth of thought required of the situation.)  

 

ASH 

I’m sorry, I can’t. 

 

SHRILDY 

Hmm…I was afraid of this. Virgil, please go hunt down Mr. Leo. 

 

(VIRGIL leaves hurriedly.)  

 

ASH 

Who’s Mr. Leo?  

 

SHRILDY 

He’s a, um, part of our family, you might say.  

 

(VIRGIL returns with MR. LEO. A dapper, 1930s sort of guy who, despite all that, would habe no trouble fitting in with a more contemporary crowd. He wears gold, yellow, red, orange. )  

 

ASH 

You’re Mr. Leo? 
 

MR. LEO 

Why yes! Yes, indeed I am. And you must be Ash! You might know me from my debut appearance as Fire? Or maybe my sophomore venture, as Lightning?  

 

ASH 

Your what? 

 

MR. LEO 

Oh, you know what? I’m certain—certain—that you’ll remember me from my most popular performance, yet: stars! 

 

ASH 

You’re a star? 

MR. LEO 

Why, yes, I am a star, thank you. But I was also the Stars. You see?  

 

ASH 

Oh okay. I get it. 

 

MR. LEO 

So, Virgil tells me you’re having a little trouble remembering something, huh?  

 

SHRILDY 

Yes, that’s right. Do you think you can help? 

 

MR. LEO 

Help? Well of course I can help! As a professional performer, I have a range of memory recall techniques in my arsenal. Now, let’s see…some room, please, dear siblings. 

 

(VIRGIL and SHRILDY give MR. LEO and ASH some space. After some gentle inspection of ASH’s person, MR. LEO pulls out an old-fashioned, ornate pocket watch and dangles it, pendulously, in front of ASH.) 

 

MR. LEO 

Now, breathe deeply and keep your eyes on this. 

 

(ASH obeys.) 

MR. LEO 

When I count to four, you will remember what you have forgotten. Ready? One…Two…Three…Four! 

 

(At “Four,” the space goes completely dark. It sounds like all the air being sucked out of the space. After a moment, the lighting refocuses to only ASH.)  

 

ASH 

(Straight out, to the audience.) 

We made a promise once. A promise to the Mountains. A promise we failed to keep. We have been given a second chance, and now, we must not fail. They are the Trees, the Creeks, the Beasts, the Stars—if we fail again, what are we? If we succeed, who can we become? 

 

END PLAY 

 

How far back can you remember? What can you remember from that far back? Is it a complete memory, or is it just a feeling?   

If your ancestors made a promise, and expected you to keep it, is that fair? Do you have to keep it? Why or why not?  

Do you believe in second chances?  

What happens if you break a promise? What happens if you break that promise again? What happens if you don’t? 

Brent Watts is a theatre artist and linguist from Breathitt County. He graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2018 and is enrolled in its Master of Arts in Linguistic Theory and Typology program. 

This column is brought to you by Our Breathitt, a community arts and health experience bringing together artists and Breathitt Countians from across Kentucky. Project is organized with IDEAS xLab (an artist-led nonprofit), and supported by the National Endowment for the Arts. Starting in August 2019, five collaborating writers, each with their own perspectives and ties to the county, will offer weekly columns and audio stories for radio and podcasts. Contact us at 859-397-1317 to join this conversation by leaving a voicemail with your response to the questions we raise and adding thoughts of your own! You may hear your responses incorporated into future posts and narratives! You can also email at ourbreathitt@gmail.com. We hope you will mark your calendars and join us at the Our Breathitt Summit, October 11-12 in Jackson, Kentucky. Information at www.ideasxlab.com/ourbreathitt