The Forest Standard, Wednesday, July 21, 1999
Permission for public use received; May 4,2000
Writer can't keep away from The Promise in Forest
By: Jen VanderBeek
I keep telling myself that I am not going to say ;anything more than I have already said about the Promise Pagent over the past number of years.
I can't keep quiet.
Interesting to me since if someone were to explain the whole thing to me, I would very quickly shrug it off as "Not my kinda thing." Sounds too much like schmaltzification. A bunch of people dressed in renovated bed sheets andsandals pretending through a limited number of scenes of the Life and Times of Christ. I already know the ending. Wouldn't be anything new. Why bother.
So it is interesting to me that I can't keep away from it.
Maybe it's the scenery of the place that sets something off in me. The stage is set on an island surrounded by a pond. A very settling setting. Inviting everyone to relax a sprawl themselves into the play. The chorus of "err-grubb"sounds (flirting bullfrogs struck more by moonlight and hormones than by The Promise is my guess) that come from the water at the unholiest of moments always makes me appreciate the reality of it all in spite of it all. Fireflies paying absolutely no attention to the huge spotlights dancing their enlightened behinds to the beat of their own drummers.. The sunset, the moon and stars upstaging everything, sliding into view without benefit of cues and prompts from stage management, perfectly timed, not even staying to see if they are applauded in the credits.
Maybe it's the people that stir something deeper in me. Normal: mostly wonderful and mostly average to geeky, funny, loveable people who bring everything they are, tie it all up in costumes and make-up and move beyond pretending the play to living, feeling and delivering it, with about as much authenticity as it is mere-humanly possible. People who find themselves pulled into the story, pulsing along with the story time after time after time, constantly surprised despite the fact that they have all the lines and events memorized in their marrows.
Maybe it's the story itself that holds me. One viewer sitting on the hill, so struck by the story, afterwards approached a cast member, "This was great! What else did this guy write?" Maybe hearing and learningand reviewing and memorizing the story is something that is different from feeling and seeing and walking the story.
Which brings me to the niggling thing that I know keeps me there in the middle of it all - the children. The best of pretenders. The least skeptical of viewers. The most forgiving of 'mistakes' The most sure believers. Only a handful of the children there are acting on a hill in Forest. The Piper's majority of them are gone, transported to a hillside in
Jerusalem, where they are following the Leader. Their watchful eyes and ears take in and show their soft hears what already lives there.
It is no surprise to me that there are a number of children dropped off at the gates before the show insisting, despite their parent's lack of enthusiasm, on being there to fill their roles in the show. It astounds me that the children are the leaders in setting the climate and that adults can only imitate. It sparks me that there is no need for discipline or reprimand behind the scenes. Even the black, tee-shirted toughs, having out outgrown their 'crowd costumes', are there entertaining and following it all from behind 'cool' lighting or sound or stage equipment. There for a reason other than money, they aren't being paid. If you look in their eyes, past the tough spots, you'll see what I mean. Something holds them to this as much as it holds me.
Something invisible. Something mysterious. Unspeakable. Something as hard to capture as the bellow of a frog or the flittering flash of a firefly. something that moves between the alto from St. Christopher's beside me and the soprano from Forest United behind me that ties us all together, makes it all blend in incredible harmony. Something that looks past human foibles and flubs to an unhuman answer beyond. Something that moves between everyone there and reminds us all that we're not so different at all.