The Green Pastures, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Marc Connelly, is a reenactment of stories of the Old Testament in which all the characters (including God) are African American and speak in a black southern dialect. The play was first performed at the Mansfield Theatre in New York City in 1930. Connelly attributes his idea for the play to the retelling of Old Testament stories in Roark Bradford’s book Southern Sketches, ‘‘Ol’ Man Adam an’ His Chillun.’’
The Green Pastures follows stories of the Bible, such as Adam and Eve, Noah and the flood, Moses and the exodus from Egypt, and the crucifixion of Christ, but places them in a rural black southern setting. Thus, one of the opening scenes takes place at a ‘‘fish fry’’ in ‘‘pre-Creation Heaven,’’ during which God spontaneously decides to create Earth and man. God eats boiled pudding, smokes cigars, and runs Heaven out of a shabby ‘‘private office’’ assisted by Gabriel. The settings are roughly contemporary to the time period in which the play was first written and performed, so that, for instance, the city of Babylon is represented as a New Orleans jazz nightclub. The costumes are also contemporary: God wears a white suit and white tie, Adam is dressed in a farmer’s clothes, Eve wears the gingham dress of a country girl, and so on. The play ends with God’s decision, while back at the fish fry in Heaven, to send Jesus Christ down to Earth.
Connelly’s play was unusual at the time of its initial production in that it featured a cast made up exclusively of African-American actors. Connelly’s portrayal of African Americans as ‘‘simple’’ people, particularly as created by a white playwright, will likely strike today’s reader as stereotyped.
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