The Green Pastures is a 1930 play by Marc Connolly based on the 1928 novel Ol' Man Adam an' His Chillun by Roark Bradford.
It starts with a contemporary black preacher, somewhere in Louisiana, giving a Sunday school lesson to children in his flock. When the preacher talks of heaven, the little kids ask him what Heaven is like. The preacher imagines a Heaven that's much like a social afternoon at a black church, with fish frys and ten cent cigars.
The next scene is in Heaven—which is a fish fry, where God and the angels are eating fish and smoking ten-cent cigars. The play unfolds from that point as a series of vignettes telling the highlights of the Old Testament, staged as if they were taking place in the black community in Louisiana in the 1920s. Highlights include Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Cain and Abel, and Noah's flood.
Made into a 1936 film co-directed by Connolly (in his only film credit), along with co-director William Keighley. The film was one of only six movies made by a Hollywood studio during the studio era with an all-black cast, featuring Eddie "Rochester" Anderson (before he starred in The Jack Benny Program) as Noah.
- Adaptation Expansion: Connolly adds some original material to the Old Testament, like Cain meeting "Cain's Gal" and siring a race of evil men that precipitate the Flood, or a scene near the end where God is inspired by his encounter with a Jewish warrior named Hezdrel fighting against the Romans.
- Archangel Gabriel: God's sidekick, who often urges him to cut humanity a break.
- The Ark: Noah builds one, to save his family as well as all the animals from the flood.
- Cain and Abel: Scene IV. Although, oddly, in the play Cain has killed Abel in a fit of rage after Abel insulted him, as opposed to the original story where Cain was jealous after God preferred Abel's sacrifice.
- The Descendants of Cain: Features some apocryphal descendants of Cain, including the murderous Cain the Sixth. Their wickedness inspires God to order The Great Flood.
- Forgotten Framing Device: The whole "preacher talking about the Bible to kids" framing device is forgotten after a certain point, with the play sticking to the Old Testament.
- Framing Device: Mr. Deshee telling Bible stories to the kids in his Sunday school class.
- Funetik Aksent: All the characters, including the ministers and archangels as well as God himself, speak in an offensive cartoonish version of the rural black dialect.
- The Ghost: Jesus doesn't appear, but is sighted offstage in the final scene carrying a cross up a hill.
- God: The main character, and yes, he's an Uncle Tom figure, although in terms of the period, he's an authority.note God goes through some character growth as he realizes one can find mercy through suffering.
- The Great Flood: Tough to tell the Noah story without one.
- Have a Gay Old Time: A stage direction says the choir is singing a hymn "gayly and rapidly."
- Heaven: Apparently a fish fry, which in fairness, does seem like a lot more fun than Fluffy Cloud Heaven.
- In the Back: Where Cain the Sixth stabs his romantic rival Flatfoot.
- Lighter and Softer: Adam and Eve are not, repeat, not naked in their scene.
- Mammy: Here they are angels (actually called "Mammy Angel" in the script!), but still just as sassy.
- Noah's Story Arc: Is one of the episodes in the play, which retold The Bible from the perspective of a poor African-American child.
- No Name Given: Features "Cain's Gal", who even identifies herself with precisely those words after Cain picks her up. Her name is not given.
- Old Beggar Test: God usually walks among humans as a simple country preacher. The poor treatment he receives on one visit is what leads him to whip up a great flood that destroys everybody but Noah and his family.
- Posthumous Character: Abel appears only as a corpse, with his brother Cain standing over him.
- Race Lift: For the whole cast, as the Old Testament of the ancient Israelites is staged by black actors playing characters in Louisiana.
- Setting Update: A series of Bible vignettes staged in modern-day (that is, the 1920s) Louisiana with an all-black cast.
- Suspiciously Specific Denial: Cain the Sixth says, "No, I ain't got no gun for my ol' friend, Flatfoot," before walking up to him and stabbing him In the Back.Cain the Sixth (quietly but triumphantly): I got a little knife fo' him.
- Uncle Tomfoolery: This play is very, very, very racist. It starts right off the bat with Connolly's "Author's Note" that precedes the play, as he describes "untutored black Christians... unburdened by the differences of more educated theologians" who have a "simple faith" and apparently really believe that Heaven is a big fish fry. The play itself depicts rural black Americans as being ignorant and superstitious, childlike and easily led. That is, when they aren't being violent and sinful and bringing down the wrath of an angry God. There's even a scene where some low-class characters are playing dice.
- Verbal Irony: Noah is talking to God who is in disguise as an old country preacher. Noah, worried about the sinful state of the world, says "De good Lawd only knows what's gonter happen." God agrees, saying "Dat is de truth."
- A Wizard Did It: Well, God is a pretty badass wizard. This is Mr. Deshee's non-answer when the kids start asking him puzzling questions about how and why God decided he wanted to make the Earth. "De answer is dat the Book ain't got time to go into all de details."
- You Look Familiar: In-Universe. The stage directions specifically state that Hezdrel, the Jewish warrior who fights against Herod in a scene near the the end, is the same actor who played Adam in an early scene. God even calls him Adam.
Tropes found in the 1936 film:
- Aside Glance: God looks right at the camera in astonishment when he sees a young boy he thinks is praying, only to find that the boy is gambling with dice.
- Fluffy Cloud Heaven: Heaven is depicted as a fish fry, with fluffy clouds floating around for angels to relax on.
- Thunder = Downpour: It does when it's Noah's flood.