The unit set for Grim Lake (6m, 3w), created by tables and chairs, represents all times and places at the Red Rose Inn in Armitage, Ohio, during the years 1791 to 1805, the action moving back and forth in time without set changes and with actors remaining on stage. Nigro prefaces the script with the information that, in 1791, Henry and Margaret (Mag) Grim, their son Thomas and his wife Clara Jane, and their daughter Daisy Grim Quiller, all disappeared or were murdered. “There are several stories about what might have happened to them.” The play begins in darkness with Jonas Grey Wolf gazing into a fire, speaking of the ubiquitous power of Manitou. As the fire goes out we see Polly Crow, 42, sitting on a wooden chair, staring into a downstage fire we can’t see. George Grim, 19, sits near her and his sister, Mary Grim Armitage, 21, is finishing cleaning. The voice of Robert Armitage is heard from upstairs, telling Mary to come up to bed. Mary wants Polly and George to go to bed. George says he sees things and thinks Polly does, too. Mary says she was seven when the event George dreams about happened and she doesn’t remember anything. She agrees with Polly that purple berries and bears drive people crazy. Mary says she doesn’t want to think about it; they’re dead and nothing will bring them back. Polly says it was the Devil, except he looked more like God. George says Polly was twenty-eight at the time and saw what happened. Polly says the Devil had long white hair and a white beard and a black suit; he had huge hands and his face was red and his eyes were blue. Mary says it was the Indians that killed them, but Polly says she can see Henry, Mag, Thomas, Clara Jane, and Daisy as clearly as if they were still alive. She says, at the time, she heard whippoorwills.
Lights dim on them and come up on Henry and Mag (in 1791). Mag thinks she hears something besides whippoorwills and Henry asks her if she has been eating purple berries again. When she calls Henry Enrico, he says his name is Henry. Mag says “he” is close, that he is coming for them. She wants Polly to put the children in the root cellar. Mag refers to Henry killing a Jesus and says she liked the way Henry walked the tightrope in his costume. She wants him to walk on his hands. When he says he’s too old, she says he was walking on his hands the night he killed Jesus. He says Enrico killed Jesus; he is Henry. Mag says that Mephistopheles is here and tells Henry to listen. We hear the sound of whippoorwills as the light fades on them and comes up on George telling Jonas he has been having dreams about the massacre. Jonas says the Indians were blamed, that he was blamed because he is half Indian. George says that white people saved Jonas and raised him like their own. Jonas says there is something evil in the lake and that it’s always a mistake to love. We hear whippoorwills and Jonas says he saw George’s father and Polly Crow and heard them talking about Jesus as an old man with white hair and beard appeared. Jonas says he went into the woods and when he came back they were all gone. He says something came up out of the water and advises George to leave the situation alone. We hear whippoorwills again as light fades on Jonas and George and comes up on Thomas Grim and Polly (in 1791).
Thomas tells her he has been dreaming of a creature living deep in the lake, a creature that came up and started devouring “us.” He says he hears voices in the woods and discloses that his wife Clara Jane, whom he met on a ship coming to America, never talks to him. Polly says that Daisy told her that Thomas hasn’t talked to her since she married Pete. Thomas says that Polly slept with both Old Man Rose and his son and has had a child by each of them. Polly tells Thomas that his parents are speaking German, not gibberish. Thomas denies that they can speak German and says that once he saw his father walking on his hands. Polly warns him about eating the purple berries, but Thomas says he saw Daisy and Clara Jane and his mother and father lying dead by the shore of the lake with blood everywhere. He says something pulled them into the water. Polly kisses him on the cheek as the light fades.
Polly crosses to George, Mary, and her husband Robert Armitage (in 1805) as Mary is berating George for asking questions about dead people. George says he wants to know what happened to his family and asks how five people can be killed in such a small town without anyone knowing what happened. Robert, who was eleven at the time, says there was blood everywhere, and Mary says she dreamed that something came out of the water and took them. George asks Polly about the man she thought was the Devil, and she says the man told her his name was Mephistopheles. We hear whippoorwills as lights dim on the others and come up on a younger Polly sitting in the woods as Mephistopheles DeFlores comes up behind her. Polly tells him he looks a little bit like God and Mephistopheles tells her about his twin children, a girl and a boy named Jesus. When Polly tells Mephistopheles he is very angry with his daughter, he says she married a clown who did somersaults on a tightrope and walked on his hands. He can’t forgive his daughter because she is responsible for the death of her brother, Jesus. Mephistopheles says he has been following his daughter and her husband for twenty-nine years. Polly says he should forgive his daughter and tells him about being taken by Indians when she was a child. She says that Henry and Mag Grim are over by the stand of maple trees. Mephistopheles tells Polly to take the children to a cellar because a storm is coming. He leaves and Polly tells Thomas that Mephistopheles is looking for Thomas’ parents because they killed Jesus at the carnival. Thomas tells Polly to hide in the root cellar with the children. Alone, Thomas talks about Revelation as the making known of what has been secret and leaves to find an ax.
Lights come up on Mag and Henry as Mag tells Henry that she loved him when his name was Enrico but she saw him in the woods with Clara Jane, his son’s wife, comforting her with his penis. Mephistopheles comes out of the upstage shadows telling them that he has pursued them across an ocean and nearly half a continent for three decades. He says he is tired and wonders if there’s any point to anything since before long everybody alive will be dead. Lights come up on Polly telling George about putting him and Mary in the root cellar and about seeing Clara Jane and Daisy kissing. Polly says she doesn’t know if the old man with white hair and big hands killed them. She says she remembers somebody saying, “Don’t look in his eyes.” Light fades on them as Thomas enters with an ax and asks where Mephistopheles is. Henry says Thomas must have imagined him, but then says that the old man went back into the woods. Mag says that Henry is fornicating with his son’s wife and Henry says that Clara Jane also slept with Thomas’ sister. He says Clara Jane can’t help it, it’s just her way of making friends. Mag says something is coming out of the water to kill them, but Henry thinks it’s just fog. Thomas believes it is retribution for all their sins. Light fades on them and comes up on George, Robert, and Jonas sitting at a fire (in 1805).
George says the past is a puzzle with most of the pieces missing and he doesn’t know what the truth is. Robert says we make educated guesses that are only illusions that keep us alive long enough to fornicate with a few women. We come from nothing and go to nothing. To find truth, read the tombstones. Jonas says that sometimes the Manitou whispers in a person’s head, but a person doesn’t always understand. Light fades and we hear the sound of whippoorwills in the darkness.