Growing up in Moncks Corner, playwright Ceille Baird Welch used to see the Goat Man every few years. Charles “Ches” McCartney, an itinerant wanderer who traversed the American East Coast, often passed through the small South Carolina town with nothing but a wagon pulled by the hoofed animals.
“The goat man would come through once a year. It was quite a show,” Welch remembers. “People would stand out on the sidewalks and watch this man pass through. What impressed me as an eight-year-old at the time was he had a little crippled goat he took care of.” The memory lingered for years, but it wasn’t until Welch picked up writing after her children had left home that she figured out a way to tell his story in Between God & the Goatman, which will debut as a reading at Piccolo.
“I put the Goat Man with another very fond memory,” she says. Growing up Welch had a rather eccentric uncle. A wonderful family man, he struggled to hold a job, but what he lacked in income, he made up for in whimsy, keeping a revival tent in the backyard in addition to a broken ferris wheel.
“I don’t know where he got the revival tent,” says Welch. “But people would come from all over and pay 10 cents to watch cowboy movies in it.”
As for the ferris wheel, Welch doesn’t recall how that came to show up either; all she remembers is the joy of visiting her cousins, sitting in the defunct carnival ride seats, swinging her legs. With the memory of the Goat Man and her uncle in mind, Welch combined the two stories for her latest play wherein a poor rural South Carolina family faced with loss finds hope with the help of a visiting wanderer.
The Piccolo production will be the first time Welch’s play has been read, and afterwards audience members can ask the playwright about the show. Welch admits that doing the first reading with actors live it is a bit scary. But the award-winning writer and poet has some experience. Her play, Dayporch at East Jesus, enjoyed a premiere run at the William Redfield Theatre on W. 45th St. just off Broadway and The Snakehandler, was a winner of the Savannah Playwright’s Festival.