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Corey Coots is a rising star in the snake-handling Signs Following Church in the hills of Appalachia. He is supported by his wife, Star, who aspires to become a preacher like her husband. Their world is disrupted when a young college student and aspiring journalist, Jay, intrudes with the intent of studying the people of Appalachia. He disrupts their way of life, not only because he is an outsider, a stranger with strange ways, but also because he becomes entangled romantically with Star.
He is also enamored with Madge, one of the outcast Blue People, a woman married to a much older man; she claims to sees into the future and is often accompanied by a panther (“painter”) which lurks near her in the brush. Members of the Signs Following Church are pitted against Jay as an outsider, against law enforcement in their own town, against Child and Family Services, against the families of the Blue People and Jay ultimately must choose which world he now belongs to—the Signs Following Church family, the community of Blue People, or the world from which he came.
The blue people of Kentucky actually existed for many years in Appalachia. The Fugates, a family that lived in the hills of Kentucky, commonly known as the “Blue Fugates” or the Blue People of Kentucky, are notable for having been carriers of a genetic trait that led to the disease methemoglobinemia, which gives sufferers blue-tinged skin.
From the Play
Jay shakes his head and everyone laughs.
Daddy: (to Jay) Guess you don’t know a lot about that bus you drove over here, either. I reckon its good enough to sleep in these hills, but it’s plain to see it’s got a busted block. See that water come down. That ain’t the radiator.
Jay: There’s a lot I don’t know about yet.
Daddy: We’ll see what we can do about it after the service.
Corey: Everybody’s got a job here. Daddy used to handle serpents; now he fixes things and gives advice nobody wants to hear. My wife, Star, here, handles serpents when she feels anointed. Abe Telford here handles our business, sometimes knowing where we’re supposed to be, and hiding our folding money in the back of his radio.
Jay: (writing in his notebook) “…when she feels Anointed.”
Corey: Sooner or later God will flow into that person and anoint her. She’ll blush with the power and commence to tongues, then steam forth, hungering for the spirit, anointed by the Lord. She’ll come to the altar and take a snake from one of the flat boxes. Only a fool would touch a serpent if she weren’t anointed.
Star: The same goes for drinking a cup of poison.
Corey: We ain’t trying to pass a test or prove ourselves. We’re only bearing witness to what is already true. Just take up the bible and read Mark 16. “…and these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”
Star: We’re a “signs following” Holiness Church. What we’ll gain is heaven, not the things of this earth.
Daddy: Listen to us Cootses. Barely made it out of grammar school and we can talk like angels.
Jay: Mr. Coots. What I hear, Mr. Coots, is that your son is the greatest Signs Following preacher in the world.
Corey: Ain’t no prize for anything except what you get in another life.