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.
In Part I, Scene I of The Green Pastures, Reverend Deshee teaches Sunday school to a group of children in a Louisiana town. He explains the first five chapters of Genesis, after which the children ask him questions.
Scene II takes place at a fish fry in pre-Creation Heaven. The fish fry is attended by angels of all ages. An Archangel arrives and hands out diplomas to all of the children. Then Gabriel arrives, followed by God. After tasting the boiled custard, God decides that the recipe needs more ‘‘firmament’’ to taste right. To produce more firmament for the custard, God performs a miracle. There is so much firmament, however, that it starts to rain down on the fish fry. God creates Earth to drain off the excess firmament. God then creates man to farm the earth.
Scene III takes place on the newly formed Earth, where Adam is alone. God tells Adam that he needs a family; he tells Adam to lie down while he creates Eve. Adam and Eve taste the fruit of the tree God has forbidden them to harvest and are kicked out of the Garden of Eden, after which they have two sons, Cain and Abel.
In Scene IV, God descends upon Earth to find that Cain has just killed Abel by hitting him with a stone, because, he says, Abel was making a ‘‘fool’’ of him while he worked in the field. God tells Cain that he has committed a ‘‘crime’’ and orders him to go as far away as possible.
In Scene V, Cain stops by the side of a country road, where he meets a young woman. She agrees to be Cain’s Girl, and takes him home to find lodging at her father’s house.
Scene VI takes place in ‘‘God’s private office in Heaven.’’ God comments to Gabriel that he hasn’t walked the earth for several hundred years, and decides to see how things are going.
Scene VII takes place on Earth on a Sunday. God finds the people engaged in gambling and debauchery, few of them attending church. Noah, a country preacher, comes along, and God walks with him. Noah, thinking God is also a preacher, tells him of the general lack of faith among the people. Noah invites God home for dinner with his wife.
Scene VIII takes place in the home of Noah and his wife. While there, God draws up a plan for Noah to build an ark, warning him that He will be sending a flood to drown all the people, who are full of sin, except Noah and his family.
In Scene IX, Noah and his sons build the ark while their neighbors look...
(The entire section is 1020 words.)