The spiritual, peace-loving White Cliff Kinfolk are hidden away from the rest of the world on a mountain in New Jersey. The extended family has lived there for 12 generations, their blood mixed with that of fugitives from the outside world. Disease is devastating them. A shadow creeping over the mountain augurs destruction. They depend on their leader, the Watcher, but she is ancient, rapidly losing her powers. Her replacement must be found quickly.
A young Kinfolk woman brings a “foreigner” from the valley hoping he will teach her to read so she can find a spiritual connection between the Kinfolk and other people — so she will feel safe going off the mountain to learn about the rest of the world. He figures out that it is Lyme disease which is killing the kinfolk. She finds the connection in the New York Times (the newly discovered African Burial Ground). The young man is jubilant. They must let him “save” them by announcing their whereabouts to the world. They will make scads of money from reality tv, talk shows, and so forth; more than enough for medical treatment, insurance, and all the benefits of a civilized life, he promises.
In a test to determine who has Watcher powers the young woman saves her sister from death. The Kinfolk hold a pageant, a reenactment of their founding, performed as part of a ceremony to name the new Watcher. The young woman chooses to assume leadership rather than go with the young man. She refuses to let him have the evidence he needs to prove their link to the African Burial Ground. The Kinfolk have a new Watcher and their future is secure — or is it?
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From the Play
AT RISE: Pre-dawn. Base of a mountain. SOUND: sports car speeds on a country road. IBANNI enters, barefoot, coming down the mountain for the first time in her life. She steps to the middle of the road. Simultaneously: HEADLIGHTS blind her; SQUEAL of brakes; HORN. Car swerves, barely misses her. MOTOR off; DOOR opens, slams shut. PETER enters.
PETER: Shit! Crap! Holy — ! Get out of the — ! (a discovery)
Christ. You’ve got the right idea. (He sits in the middle of the road.) Next thing plows around the corner — splat! End it all. Beautiful.
IBANNI: Someting coming. Get out of the road.
PETER:A Mack truck with any luck.
IBANNI: Git! Over to the side.
PETER: Nah. This is perfect. I’m a perfect target.
(SOUND: car approaching. She drags him to the side of the road, narrowly escaping the car [HEADLIGHTS, HORN, MOTOR fades].)
PETER: Jesus you’re an Amazon!
IBANNI: Come wit me.
PETER: Now I’m indebted to you for saving my life? Thanks for nothing.
IBANNI: I am Ibanni. I will give you hope.
Scene 2. The Mountain
A clearing high on the mountain. Dawn. Circle of logs surrounds a fire pit. A high platform is a cliff rising to one side. A ramp is a path up the cliff to a lookout. Another platform represents a long building with sod roof. FERN, wearing slippers, stirs a pot over the fire. A string of shells and glass beads encircles ancient CATALINA’s hips. On her feet are very old moccasins. She is finishing a bowl of oatmeal. A raven CAWS once.
FERN: Howdy, Granpa Raven. He say “howdy.”
CATALINA: He say “caw.”
FERN: “Howdy” the exact word out his beak.
CATALINA: You getting powers, fern?
FERN: I is. (CATALINA slowly gets to her feet.) Oatmeal done?
CATALINA: Sun up.
(Large, muscular TINY enters from the forest with split wood, axe, yellow violet, work boots caked with mud.)
TINY: Ah-kobo, Miz Catalina!
CATALINA: Ah-kobo, Eustaba.
TINY: Ah-kobo, Auntie Fern!
FERN: My haint we chipper.
TINY: (joyous, playful whisper:) Banni ’round?
FERN: Haint seen her.
(CATALINA is slowly crossing to the path leading up the cliff to the lookout.)
TINY: Got all-fire, super-dooper news.
FERN: You’re gone tell me sure.
TINY: Jist now. Watching sprouts grow in the woods — tinks I did. Lack of rain, sprouts fade. Too much, they flop over. Bear step on ’em. Groundhog nip they head off. Still brave sprouts stretch for the sun. Say to myself: Goldurnit, Tiny Oromeda! You lacking courage them little sprouts has got! Made a decision then and there. Tonight I’s popping the question! (clears throat)
Gots to strike while fire’s a’blazin –
Blazin like sun heats grape to raisin;
Blazin wit courage I haint afore got –
Don’t ask tonight, I might’s well rot.
That jist come to me. Banni say “yes” don’t you tink?
FERN: She better.
CATALINA: (calling over shoulder:) She can be wife and Watcher too.
TINY: You’s the Watcher.
CATALINA: Not forever.
FERN: I will take over when need be.
CATALINA: (calls) You haint got powers, Fern.
FERN: More than Ibanni. Tiny, you and Banni getting hitched first ting tomorrow guaranteed. Go hoist Miz Leena on your back, take her to the lookout.
CATALINA: Don’t need no ride.
TINY: Haint trouble.
CATALINA: Haint dead yet.
(CATALINA makes her way slowly toward the cliff. It will take a long time to climb to the lookout at the top. FERN hands a bowl of oatmeal to TINY.)
FERN: It’s hot. Don’t wolf it down. I’s tired of soaking your burnt tongue in potato peel water.
Scene 3. The Paper
At the base of the mountain.
IBANNI: Where is paper?
IBANNI: (pointing to his pocket) There?
(He pulls a wadded-up letter from his pocket, smooths it out. It’s a medical school rejection.)
IBANNI: You hold. I look.
PETER: Now you know. You saved a moron. You’re offering hope to a lost cause.
IBANNI: That not the paper.
PETER: What? The New York Times?
PETER: In my car.
PETER: Fat Sunday edition.
PETER: Excuse me?
PETER: What language was that?
IBANNI: Old Kinfolk. No tell where we go.
PETER: We go?
IBANNI: You. Me. The New York Times.
PETER: Maybe I’ve got stuff to do, y’know, like a life.
IBANNI: You were trying to get kilt.
PETER: Right. You’re right. I have no life.