Places: Green Grow the Lilacs

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1931

First produced: 1931

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Regional

Time of work: 1900

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedWilliams farmhouse

Williams Green Grow the Lilacsfarmhouse. Well-kept farmhouse in Indian Territory (later Oklahoma), occupied by young Laurey Williams and fifty-year-old Aunt Eller Murphy. The stage directions introducing the first scene of the six-scene play describe a radiant summer morning and a landscape dotted with men, cattle in a meadow, blades of young corn, and streams. Much of the play centers on the Williams farm.

*Indian Territory

*Indian Territory. Federal territory in which the play is set, before it merged with Oklahoma Territory to become the state of Oklahoma in 1912. Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers, who adapted the play to create the musical Oklahoma! (1943), stated that Riggs’s opening stage directions inspired the magical atmosphere of “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” the song that opens Oklahoma! In a sense, Green Grow the Lilacs is itself a musical play, throughout which Riggs intersperses traditional folk songs and ballads. The first scene opens with Curly McClain, a brash young cowboy who is Laurey’s suitor, approaching the Williams farmhouse singing “Chisholm Trail,” immediately establishing the play’s frontier setting. Later, Curly sings an old ballad containing the lyrics that give the play its title.

Riggs further reinforces the sense of place through dialogue. He attempts to render the characters’ speech on the page just as he remembers that of his own Oklahoma boyhood. One stage direction describes their speech as lazy and drawling, but warns against use of a generalized southern or “hick” dialect. He wants his characters’ dialect to be true to that of Indian Territory in 1900.

After the murderously jealous farmhand Jeeter dies while trying to burn Curly and Laurey alive, Curly is taken to the territorial capital, Claremore, for an inquiry. However, he escapes and returns to the Williams farmhouse. Much of the sixth scene of the play reflects the primitive state of law and order in Indian Territory in 1900.

Old Man Peck’s house

Old Man Peck’s house. Backyard of a place across Dog Creek, where a party is in progress in the play’s fourth scene. Riggs devotes almost two pages of stage directions to dozens of period details. The revelers square dance outside and pull candy in the kitchen. Here also Curly and Jeeter become enemies in their pursuit of Laurey.

BibliographyBraunlich, Phyllis Cole. Haunted by Home: The Life and Letters of Lynn Riggs. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988. Written before a major acquisition of Riggs’s papers was made available by Yale University Library. Good on Riggs’s life in the 1930’s; discusses important themes in Riggs’s plays. Index and appendix.Braunlich, Phyllis Cole. “The Oklahoma Plays of R. Lynn Riggs.” World Literature Today 64, no. 3 (Summer, 1990): 390-395. Offers criticism and interpretation. Presents Riggs’s serious artistic intentions in his Oklahoma plays. Describes the contemporary critical reception of the plays.Erhard, Thomas. Lynn Riggs: Southwest Playwright. Austin, Tex.: Steck-Vaughn, 1970. An excellent introduction to research of Riggs’s work. Comments on the playwright’s use of the territorial Oklahoma dialect.Sper, Felix. From Native Roots: A Panorama of Our Regional Drama. Caldwell, Idaho: The Caxton Printers, 1948. Describes the plots of nine plays by Riggs. Concludes that Riggs’s use of violence, fury, incest, and murder seem to give the plays an unreal air. Bibliography and index.Wilk, M. The Story of “Oklahoma!” New York: Grove Press, 1993.
Categories: Places