The Rogers State University theatre program will kick off a year of productions in commemoration of the Oklahoma Centennial with a play by Lynn Riggs, one of the most renowned playwrights in the state’s history.
RSU Theatre will present two staged readings of “Out of Dust” on Thursday and Friday, Feb. 1-2 at the Robson Performing Arts Center in Claremore. The productions will begin at 8:07 p.m.
All proceeds from ticket and concession sales will benefit the newly founded Green Country Arts and Humanities Council, which is based in Claremore.
Riggs is best know for his play “Green Grow the Lilacs,” upon which the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “Oklahoma!” was based.
The RSU production of “Out of Dust” will be the first time the play has been presented since 1948, when it was staged at a playhouse in Westport, Conn., and 1958, when it was produced for the “Playhouse 90” series on television. In 2004, the play was published for the first time in the book “Cherokee Nights and Other Plays by Lynn Riggs,” released by the University of Oklahoma Press.
“Out of Dust” is a seldom-produced work that tells the tragic 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 family’s Bible-quoting patriarch who seeks to control every aspect of the lives of his family and employees. Much like Shakespeare’s King Lear, Grant measures the worth of his three sons and their spouses by their ability to do what he wants, when he wants and in the manner he sees most fit. The play includes 11 cast members, most of whom are male cowboys, although a female has the lead role.
“Riggs is the greatest playwright from Oklahoma to write plays about life in the state,” Blakely said. “He was the only playwright on the national stage to portray life in Indian Territory.”
Riggs was born part Cherokee Indian in 1899 on a farm a few miles southwest of Claremore. He graduated from the Eastern University Preparatory School, a high school that was a predecessor institution of RSU.
After high school, he moved to New York where he worked as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal. He soon returned to Oklahoma, where he went to work as a reporter for the Oil and Gas Journal in Tulsa. He attended the University of Oklahoma in the 1920s and eventually served on its faculty. He also wrote for the Los Angeles Times.
By the late 1920s, he returned to New York where he continued to write poetry and plays. Most of the dozens of plays that he wrote throughout his career were about his experiences growing up in Indian Territory. The plays were produced in New York, Philadelphia and other eastern cities, and in Dallas and Santa Fe, N.M., where he also lived for a period of time. He also spent a significant amount of time in Hollywood writing screenplays for films starring Marlene Dietrich, Gary Cooper and other luminaries of the 1930s. He died in 1954 in New York.
The RSU theatre program recently obtained the rights to present the play from the Lynn Riggs estate, through an agent in New York. Several descendants of the playwright, some of whom live in the Claremore area, are expected to attend the performances.
The Lynn Riggs Memorial and the Claremore Historical Society will have a display about the life and work of Riggs in the lobby of the Robson Performing Arts Center during performances of “Out of Dust.” The Lynn Riggs Memorial, which features photographs and memorabilia documenting his life, is open to the public and is located at 121 North Weenonah St. in Claremore.
Each year, the Lynn Riggs Memorial presents the Lynn Riggs Award to “outstanding artistic contributors who are Oklahomans by birth or choice.” The most recent recipients were Rilla Askew and Jerome Tiger in 2004. The award has been presented to Woody Guthrie, Patti Page and other distinguished artists and writers throughout Oklahoma history.
The main street of Claremore, State Highway 66 (the old Route 66), is named Lynn Riggs Boulevard in the playwright’s honor.
Later this spring, the RSU theatre program will present William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado about Nothing” on March 29-31, which they will set in Oklahoma. In addition, RSU Theatre will present “Terre Haute,” a play by Edmund White about a dialogue that developed between novelist Gore Vidal (also an Oklahoma native) and Timothy McVey, who was convicted and sentenced to death for the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. The play will be presented April 12-14 and 19-21, during the anniversary of the bombing. Both plays will be presented in the Will Rogers Auditorium on the RSU campus in Claremore.
For more information on “Out of Dust” and the RSU theatre program, contact Blakely at (918) 343-7541.