Promise is based on the classical
Indian epic Ramayana by Valmiki. It takes
place in a time when there are intelligent hominids on earth as well as human beings. The
play requires a simple set. Likewise
costuming can be simple so that the characters emerge.
With double casting, nine actors are required. The play is written in poetry, generally, in
pentameter. The meter varies for emphasis and
strong feeling, for monkey hero Hanuman in
keeping with a monkeys continually changing movements. Other non-human characters speak in prose.
Act One: The Heir Apparent
In the palace King Dasharatha is about to retire and turn the kingdom over to
Crown Prince Rama. In this version, Dasharatha has
two wives, Kausalya, mother of Rama and Kaikeyi, the younger and mother to Bharat.
Manthara, Queen Kaikeyi's hunchbacked servant maid, concerned about her own future,
decides to convince Kaikeyi to have her son
Bharat instead of Crown Prince Rama. Due to Mantharas ruse, Queen Kaikeyi, is
made to fear her change of status after Rama's coronation. She asks Dasharatha for fulfillment of two promises made years back by
the King. One is that Rama be sent into exile
for fourteen years and the other, that her son Bharat be crowned instead. The code of honor accepted at the time required
that the King fulfill Kaikeyis wish. When Crown Prince Rama hears about this
change in his fate, he accepts it as a contract he must fulfill. He intends to say
farewell to his mother, Queen Kausalya, his father King Dasharatha and his wife Sita and then go to the forest.
Sita and his brother Lakshman convince Rama to take them along.
The forest, the place of
exile, is where Rama and Lakshman learned martial arts as boys. In the first forest scene, they reminisce about
earlier days with their teacher. When Rama sees flocks of birds arise into the
sky, Lakshman fears an army is coming to kill them. Climbing high enough to
see, Lakshman tells that a huge army is approaching. Seeing the family banner, Lakshman is
sure their brother Bharat is coming to kill
them all. But Sita sees who is really coming: representatives of the
Bharat leads an entourage of the royal family, the army
and the citizenry. He is determined to convince Rama to
return to the kingdom, crowned as King. He has sad news of their father, King
Dasharathas death. The family performs
a memorial service to the King in the forest. Bharat
is unsuccessful in getting Rama to come home, even though he tries various arguments and
even threatens a fast until death. Queen Mother Kausalya, Ramas mother, suggests a
way to save Bharats honor and enable Rama to keep his fathers promise.
Later, in the forest, a
tender loving scene between Sita and Rama is interrupted by lusty demoness Shurparnaka.
She wants Rama for her lover. When the demoness lunges in jealousy to
destroy her rival, Sita, Lakshman cuts off
the demoness's nose with his sword. Howling, she runs to her ten-headed demon
brother Ravana, demanding that he revenge her disfigurement. Ravana who admired Sita before
her marriage to Prince Rama is happy to kidnap
Sita as revenge. He uses magic to lure Rama away from Sita so that he can kidnap her.
Princes Rama and Lakshman return
to their cottage to find Sita gone. Rama
sees the footsteps of Ravana and Sita and then
sees evidence of some aircraft. He calls out to Nature to help him find Sita,
to Mother Earth, to the trees, to the birds.
Then we switch to Ravana's
kingdom, where he has Sita in captivity.
Ravana promises Sita the favored spot in his harem if she will submit to him. She
replies with anger and disgust for the demon, letting him know how sure she is that Rama will come to kill Ravana and rescue her.
We go back and forth
between Rama and Lakshman searching for Sita and
Sita held as Ravana's captive. Sita becomes more desperate. Rama despairs, forgetting his
greatness. Then Rama and Lakshman meet Hanuman, the brilliant monkey hero. He agrees to
help find Sita. Hanuman lands in Ravana's kingdom. He looks through Ravanas harem
and then in the harsh outer fields for Sita. As Sita despairs and is about to kill
herself, She is stopped by Hanuman whispering Ramas name. Sita is overjoyed to meet this envoy of Rama but
won't escape on Hanuman's back. She says only
Rama may rescue her.
Rama and Lakshman with
an army of supporters go immediately to rescue Sita. Sita and the Demoness Guard describe the battle between Rama and Ravana to Sita. Rama wins, of course, and rescues
Kausalya and Bharat tell
the story of the triumphant home coming and coronation of Rama. They tell how, so
soon after the return of the royal couple, Sita was
found to be pregnant. They tell that the gossip in the country was that the child
was Ravana's, a demon child. Even though Rama knows that his wife was faithful to
him and that the child is his own, he sends Sita away.
In the last scene Lakshman confronts now King Rama. Lakshman had been
sent by King Rama to take Queen Sita, pregnant, into the forest and leave her near sage
Valmiki's home. Lakshman says that no one will ever understand Rama's abandonment of the
loving wife he knew was faithful to him alone. Rama tries to explain the duties of a
king and the reason for his terribly painful decision.
Rama declares the way of the good king or leader:
I must not act for like and
But only for the good of the greatest number
For now and all, for all time forward.
2000, Aikya Param.