GREEN, PAUL [ELIOT] (1894–1981). A prolific playwright and poet
whose literary career spanned several decades and genres, Paul Green is remembered chiefly for his dramatizations of southern folklore and customs
and the plight of the African American* in particular, in such plays as In
Abraham’s Bosom (first perf. 1927; pub. 1927) and The House of Connelly
(first perf. 1931; pub. 1931).
With American history and folklore among his main thematic concerns,
Green wrote The Lost Colony (first perf. 1937; pub. 1937), a panoramic
drama commemorating the 350th anniversary of the establishment of Sir
Walter Raleigh’s colony on Roanoke Island, intended to be performed outdoors. In this “Symphonic Drama in Two Acts,” Green employs music,
pantomime, dance, and scores of actors, singers, and dancers to portray the
hardships of the early colonists, their encounters with Native Americans, and
their neglect by the British Crown. The ocean, on which the settlers experienced hardships and death, comes to represent the brutality of nature,
hope, and the formation of group identity, as the colony is forced, at the
play’s end, to flee from invading Spanish troops. This play, which became a
popular annual attraction, was commissioned by the North Carolina
Historical Commission as a site-specific environmental production and benefited from the assistance of the Federal Theatre Project of the Works Progress Administration.
With The Founders (first perf. 1957; pub. 1957), Green once again turned
to American colonial history, this time with a more overtly pageantlike
approach. Here he tells the story of the earliest years of the Jamestown
settlement and its chief personalities—John Rolfe, Sir Thomas Dale, and
Pocahontas—with the land disputes between the colonists and Native Americans as its primary conflict. The watery environment of the York River near
Jamestown and the Atlantic Ocean functions as a sort of deus ex machina,
upon which the fate and well-being of the colonists depend. Above all, the
ocean represents the vast social and political distance, primarily between
tyranny and freedom, symbolized by the founders’ crossing. Although
Green’s biased account of the colonists in their land disputes with the Indians and Pocahontas’ uncritical embrace of colonial ideologies are problematic by contemporary standards, his emphasis on thrilling spectacle and
authentic pageantry renders this an exemplary document of environmental,
community-based, and site-specific historical drama.