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Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Green Pastures Revisited

The other day I happened to think of my grade school and high school friend Joe McCabe.  I googled him and was disappointed to learn that he is the late Joseph Martin McCabe.  We were neighbors in Kensington, MD for a few years in the early 1970s, which is the last time I saw him.  After a career in government , Joe moved  to West Virginia and became a successful playwright.  Joe and I were debate team partners at Regis High School in Denver during our sophomore and junior years.  Each year there was a national debate topic, which we chewed over for the whole school year.  I still remember the topics and we’re still debating them now:  Should the President be elected by a direct vote of the people and should there be socialized medicine.  We were equally comfortable with either side of either question and often took the affirmative in the morning and the negative in the afternoon or vice versa.  Joe was a much better debater than I was.
There were lots of other events at speech meets.  The exact names have slipped my mind, but the hardest for me was the one where you drew a topic and had about three minutes to think before you started talking.  I still remember my first topic. “Why do you like ice cream?”  I bombed.  I did better at extemporaneous speaking, where you were given a serious topic and had about 30 minutes to prepare.  I tried oratorical declamation for a while.  For that you had to memorize some famous speech and then recite it.  I had the one Winston Churchill addressed to the French in 1940.  I also tried an event where you acted out a scene from a play.  A standard for lots of people was a scene from Marc Connolly’s The Green Pastures.  This was the first play produced on Broadway with all black actors.  Although it won a Pulitzer in 1930, it was controversial and even banned in some countries, because of the way it scrambled up the Bible stories, and it was not loved by black intellectuals.  I doubt that it would be considered politically correct today.
I do remember the first lines.  Gabriel says:  “I guess that’s all the important business for this morning, Lawd.”  I think he was anxious to go to lunch.  If I were doing it today, I would modify it a bit.  Gabriel goes on to say:  “Lawd, you bin working full time for five days now makin the earth.  I think you gonna need somebody to take care of the place.”  God says: “Don’t worry, Gabe.  I’ve got an ape for that.”

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