Lynn Riggs’s play Green Grow the Lilacs tells a folktale of young love in the Indian Territory in 1900, seven years before it became the state of Oklahoma. Breaking with the theatrical tradition of acts, his experimental play is constructed in six related scenes. Its old songs and cowboy ballads charmed Broadway audiences.
When cowboy Curly McClain comes courting Laurey on a June morning, her Aunt Eller welcomes him and his boast of a fancy surrey and white horses to take them to the party. When Laurey prefers to go with Jeeter, the “bullet-colored” hired hand, Curly sings a ballad of a disappointed lover who changes the green lilacs of home “for the red, white, and blue” of the army.
The rivalry between Curly and Jeeter over Laurey’s affections starts in Jeeter’s smokehouse and peaks at the party, where Laurey flees to Curly for protection. Curly’s marriage proposal, which is accepted, makes him realize that he must change his cowboy life for a farmer’s plow, saying, “the ranches are breakin’ up fast. They’re puttin’ in barbed w’ar, and plowing up the sod fer wheat and corn.”
The lovers’ marriage night is interrupted by a shivaree, a raucous wedding celebration by the townspeople. The shivaree is an Oklahoma custom. The townspeople put the couple on a haystack and toss straw dolls, representing children, to them. When Jeeter sets fire to the couple’s haystack, Curly defends Laurey and,...
(The entire section is 420 words.)