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The Kentucky Cycle - Part 1 - Masters of the Trade

by Robert Schenkkan

Welcome back readers! Here we begin a new school-year (well, not everyone, not even me, but I always liked school so let's pretend shall we?) Fall is in the air and Irene is behind us.. time to get back to reading plays! Though, I am currently devouring the last book of the Hunger Games trilogy - I will finish tonight! I digress...

Workshop location: The Old Stone House in Park Slope
In mid-August I participated in a workshop with the Artful Conspirators of a new play called The Journeyman of Breuckelen by playwright David A. Miller. The story, set in Dutch Breuckelen (Brooklyn) during the 1600's, follows a storyteller who comes to town and the influence he has on the village. During the workshop we got to talking about The Kentucky Cycle.. I think because of the tension between the settlers and the natives.. I can't remember exactly why, but our conversation piqued my interest. This epic play had been sitting on my bookshelf for a while, staring me down with its intimidating length, but I will read you yet Kentucky Cycle! You will not best me!

I should get more sleep.

SO. The cycle is broken into two parts with a total of nine plays. What a marathon for the cast and crew. And audience!

Part One

Masters of the Trade

Schenkkan opens the play by placing us right in the center of the conflict - a stand-off between two white men. Strangers. Tension is high because Indians recently slaughtered an entire village of men, women, and children, using guns that were provided for them. The two men we meet are an Irishman and a Scot - the earlier bent on revenging his village, the latter mysteriously waiting in the woods for someone to meet him. This sounds like it could be a scene from the Hunger Games. I digress.. After initial grandstanding, the two men begin to converse civilly.

We get the sense that maybe they haven't been settled here for long. Michael, the Irishman describes Kentucky:
It's a grand land of opportunity, it is, with plenty of scratch to be made for those with an itch! All that, and enough room for a man to stretch out and lose himself entirely. Become somethin' new. Somethin' different. A new man. That's what we're makin' here in Kentucky, Mr. Tod. New men.
Early map of Kentucky

Tod, the Scot, is revealed to be the man providing the Cherokee with their guns. A young man, Sam, who has accompanied Michael and was hidden in the trees shoots Tod dead upon learning he's the one responsible for the loss of their village.

Guess Schenkkan isn't shy about killing off characters. It's only page 8.

The gun shot attracts the Cherokee, who aren't happy about the fact that their friend and supplier is dead. Quick thinking by Michael allows him to set himself up as their new supplier. The Cherokee demand "an eye for an eye," essentially, for Tod's death. Without hesitation, Michael stabs Sam in the gut, killing him to settle the debt. Page 14. Body count: 2. Also sounds like the Hunger Games...

Michael sets up a meeting with the Cherokee and demands a piece of land for his trouble. He gives them some powder and blankets as a good will gesture, and they go on their way. Michael laughs, sharing:
Them blankets, Sam - they're poxed. Salvaged them from that Cutter family in Zion - them whose baby girl died of the pox three weeks ago. (Beat.) Indians has thin blood. Pox'll cut through them like a hot knife through butter. (Beat.) So you see, Sam, you can rest easy now. Zion's been revenged after all. (Beat.) Sam? (Beat.) Sun's comin' up, lad. (Beat.) New day for a new land. (Beat.)
I'll admit that I know next to nothing about the history of Kentucky. But if this first play is any indication, we're in for a wild ride..

Tomorrow's Play: The Kentucky Cycle - Part 1 - The Courtship of Morning Star by Robert Schenkkan

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