Lynn Riggs was a prolific playwright and screenwriter who is best
remembered for “Green Grow the Lilacs” the source of Rogers and
Hammerstein’s well-known musical “Oklahoma.” The signature work of the
Cherokee author, screenwriter and cattleman is accompanied by the title
work and a brilliant three-act play entitled “Out of Dust” in this most
recent collection of his work. The quality of these works, set in early
20th century Oklahoma, does not explain the limited success and interest in
Riggs’ writing outside of Indian country and regional theater.
Riggs draws upon his upbringing in the cattle industry in Oklahoma and the
rich heritage of his ancestry to weave gripping stories of life on the
southern plains. “Green Grow the Lilacs” takes a romantic and engaging look
at how people on the frontier actually spent their time. “The Cherokee
Night” examines the gulf American Indians of mixed heritage often find
between their day-to-day lives and heritage. These are significant themes
for any dramatic work and worthy of more widespread exposure and
“Out of Dust” is the dramatic gem of the three plays. Released in print for
the first time in this volume, the play highlights the influence on Riggs’
writing by Shakespeare and the Bible.
The tragic plot of “Out of Dust” tells the tale of the dysfunctional Grant
family and the impact of greed and jealousy on their lives during a cattle
drive. Old Man Grant is the clan Bible-quoting patriarch who seeks to
control every aspect of the lives of his family and employees. Much like
King Lear, Grant measures the worth of his children and their spouses by
their ability to do what he wants, when he wants and in the manner he sees
The greed and ambition of the eldest Grant son Teece is manipulated by the
interloping King, Grant’s trail boss. King has a grudge against the Grants,
despite holding rank over the Grant sons in their family business, for
having served prison time to protect Bud Grant on cattle rustling charges
and his lust for Teece’s wife Maudie. Maudie in turn encourages her
husband’s ambition and participation in the conspiracy out of desperation
for her miserable life as little more than an indentured servant on the
trail and hatred of the Grant patriarch.
After Grant is murdered by King, the conspiracy unravels and climaxes in a
surprise ending involving a third Grant son and his fiancee.
The plot would have any theater patron on the edge of their seat.
Riggs extensively makes use of the regional vernacular in the dialogue of
all three plays. He wrote what people in 1910 actually would have said in
the situations he describes. It is important to note this because it adds
color and believability to the text of the plays and any stage production
of the plays.
Born in the Verdigris Valley near Claremore, Riggs was a graduate of the
University of Oklahoma majoring in speech. He was a recipient of the
Guggenheim Fellowship in 1927 and was the author of more than 30 plays and
14 movie scripts by the time of his death in the summer of 1954 at the age
of 53. Riggs had previously gained recognition as a poet before moving to
California and New York to pursue dramatic writing.
“The Cherokee Night and Other Plays” is available online by contacting the
University of Oklahoma Press at www.oupress.com or at
www.BarnesandNoble.com or by writing to University of Oklahoma Press Order
Department, 4100 28th Avenue N.W., Norman, OK 73069-8218.