by Brian Watkins
One 15 minute intermission
Mike’s determined to keep his faltering general store up and running and he’ll let nothing get in the way: not his two wily daughters, the trucker who thinks he’s dead, the rancher who thinks he’s dying, or even the blizzard outside. But something mysterious is under the floorboards. And it’s getting louder and hungrier. Can Mike save his American Dream from the ravenous creature beneath his store? Or should he just save himself instead? Part Sam Shepard, part Stephen King, Watkins’ writing finds an innovative and thrilling American voice all its own. The most talked-about play in Headwaters New Play Festival history will grip you until the final blackout.
Production Stage Manager
Rehearsal Stage Manager
Asst. Stage Manager
Asst. Stage Manager
Asst. Stage Manager
Robert Mark Morgan++
Bethany Eilean Talley
General Store is a World Premiere production of
CRT’s Headwaters New Play Program.
General Store was first developed at—and owes a special thanks to—Seven Devils Playwrights Conference, a project of id Theatre at the Alpine Playhouse—McCall, Idaho.
The play was also developed at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre and Labyrinth Theatre Company in New York City.
*Member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.
+ The Director is a member of the STAGE DIRECTORS AND CHOREOGRAPHERS SOCIETY, a national theatrical labor union.
“All money is a matter of belief”
– Adam Smith
“Power over a man’s salary is power over his will.”
– Alexander Hamilton
One day Brian Watkins watched friends try in vain to capture a mouse from beneath the floorboards. Hilarity ensued and an idea for a play was born.
I first met Brian in 2005, when he was on stage at Curious Theatre Company in Denver. Shortly thereafter, Brian turned from actor to playwright and our paths aligned again in 2012, when I was fortunate enough to direct a stage reading of his play General Store at Seven Devils Playwright Conference in McCall, Idaho. I was quickly seduced by the play’s humor and humanity and then lured into its dark and mysterious underbelly with questions that rattled my view on the world.
And I marveled at how thrilling it would be to put this play on stage. General Store is a beast of a play and requires a great deal of exertion. As the play becomes more parabolic each minute it goes on, so do the technical and acting challenges. As a result, every theatre company I shared the play with scratched their heads and said, “Not sure how we can do this play…” But not Creede Repertory Theatre. CRT looks at the play’s challenges with bravery and gusto and says, “We have to do this play!”General Store is not about one thing, but many. “Belief. Trust. Imagination. Hope. Truth. These are the vital organs of humanity,” says Brian. “If they atrophy, our worlds collapse. If we exploit them, we’ll sooner or later be swallowed whole.” The play doesn’t do the logical work of resolving questions, but rather asks one question only to find itself soon plumbing another, deeper. It is a play that is meant to be more felt than understood.
To me, General Store is a very personal play about the crisis facing our nation. I feel uncertain and I don’t like this feeling. I expect life to be a certain, reliable, and principled existence. Yet, I see many Americans giving it their all only to receive little in return. I see our nation divided, wanting to strangle each other in lieu of shaking a stranger’s hand. I don’t know what is under the floorboards, but it frightens me.
I think it is right that this scrappy, hard working theatre company in the heart of the American West presents the world premiere of General Store by Brian Watkins.
It is an honor to give this play to you.
Thank you for coming to this play about crisis, a subject perhaps best known by its unknowability. In crisis, we find ourselves lacking more than having, directionless more than rightly-coursed, ever-humbled by our own lack of sovereignty. In my own experience, crisis has felt like a hurricane of Truth without Understanding. Or put another way by Flannery O’Connor: “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” At some point, amidst my uncertainty, crisis asks me to receive Truth with faith. Yet in our worst hours, faith is the very tool that crisis strips us of. How to respond? Are we guided by hope in a principle, a person, a pursuit?
Our current philosophical blend of logical positivism mixed with capitalism has ushered in a particular romance with measurability; an obsession with data and the bottom line, a sort of gauche instrumentalism that reduces humans to tools and ideas to utilities, valuing victory and power over principles, and finally robbing beauty from what is intrinsically good. It seems this unhealthy habit has plagued our civic minds with a sort of paralysis-by-analysis. We’re so naively certain that the most important things in existence are quantifiable and knowable (and therefore profitable), that when the unknowable eludes our grasp or inhabits our given office, we see it as a terrifying threat to our individual identity. As our divided national moment would show us, this philosophical hubris eventually ensnares us in anguish and fear.
Trust. Faith. Imagination. Hope. Truth. These are the vital organs of humanity. If they atrophy, our worlds collapse. If we exploit them, we’ll sooner or later be swallowed whole. Soon, the calamity trickles out, infecting the most vulnerable places first. Many Americans — particularly the poor and marginalized — are fending off that crisis every day, exhausted, losing faith, giving it their all only to receive little in return, driven to a survivalism that makes it harder and harder to shake a stranger’s hand. I hope this wild play can serve as a cathartic release valve for some of that angst. Empathy is a great antidote to the unknowability of crisis. So I thank you for being here, in the theatre — that great empathy factory — where we can wear another person’s soul for a few hours and soak in the mystery of existence together.
THE METAPHOR BEHIND THE MONSTER
What makes a good ghost story? Is it the punch line, a final revelation that releases the tension and elicits gasps of delight from the audience? Or is it the ability for the horror to reach inward, resembling something we’ve felt or experienced? Often powerful stories stick with us because they encapsulate something familiar—a thought or truth that’s difficult to express, but simple when embodied within the action of a narrative.
Our deepest fears are often hidden by mundanity, and it’s not until those worries are presented to us in a heightened fashion that we’re able to confront them. Stanley Kubrick’s movie The Shining, for example, takes a familiar concern—that we cause our loved ones pain—and dials it up to eleven. Rather than tell the story of a man slowly distancing himself from his wife and child because of career failures, the film depicts his attempt to literally dismember them while under a sinister force. In watching The Shining, we may come to terms with our potential to do unimaginable damage within the walls of our own home.
You can thread this line of thinking across all the best horror stories. What Dracula, Frankenstein, The Turn of the Screw, The Call of Cthulhu, The Exorcist, American Psycho, and The Witch all share is a metaphor around which their “monsters” coil. When the monster embodies the familiar fears of daily life, they haunt your imagination even more. By examining the personification of these fears over the history of horror, you can easily guess what most disturbed the storytellers and their audience.
Despite its abundant humor, General Store rises to the level of these unnerving classics. The haunting presence beneath Mike’s floor could be many things, but it certainly isn’t friendly. As the play ramps up to its riveting conclusion, Mike desperately tries to keep his legacy from slipping between his fingers. The final images of the play are sure to remain with you as you reflect on your own legacy, and what might lurk under the floorboards, waiting to take it from you.