When the World Was Green by Nicole Burdette

Part of the Editor's Choice series.

BOMB 58 Winter 1997
Issue 58 058  Winter 1997
World Was Green

Alvin Epstein as “The Old Man” in Sam Shepard and Joseph Chaikin’s When the World Was Green. Photo by Carol Rosegg. Courtesy of Signature Theatre Company.

Joseph Chaikin and Sam Shepard together have created from the earth, with dirt on their hands and the imagination of the galaxy on their minds, an epic poem in the form of an Off Broadway play.

The lights—slowly—in beatific patches come up on two daunting Grecian columns as jail bars, a matching gray floor and gray wall with an oblong window too high up to see the world, but the fourth wall opens on to an explosion of poetry and grace—a dance of heritage, territory, legacy, and always the mystery of man and woman. The entire play, experience, is bathed in divinity—like the title, When the World Was Green; the play smells like mangoes, it feels like sage blowing in the breeze, brushing against your ankles in an open field, it sounds like the river you were born on and grew up near. We see the dilemma of “Old Man”—a man with a conscience (“at this late date”), a haunted man, a sleepless, dreamful man—a chef who cannot eat, a man with no physical desire—in other words, a man for all the ages. This is his story—the end of his quest with the innocence of an adolescent and the wisdom of a sage—and his confession, like all confessions, is anti-climactic. His redemption comes in the form of an inquiring, equally haunted young woman in flowered dresses. For one last time he can desire. When the World Was Greenis an elegy to an inherited America: “This is the story they told me. What else could I believe?”

–Nicole Burdette


When the World Was Green (A Chef’s Fable), written by Joseph Chaikin and Sam Shepard, directed by Joseph Chaikin, premiered at The Joseph Papp Public Theater November 7, 1996.

Paula Vogel by Mary Louise Parker
Vogel 01 Body
Looking Back on 2017: Theater & Performance
Looking Back 2017 Theater

Featuring selections by Bethany Ides, Isaac Pool, Charles Bernstein, Matthew Weinstein, Ivan Talijancic, and more.

Annie Baker’s The Antipodes by Marie-Helene Bertino
Annie Baker 01

The universe and the playwright

Alice Birch’s Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. by Amber Power
275334527 06092016 Alice Birch Bomb 1

This guide is for women who feel that they will soon be engaged in a new revolution to overthrow the soul-crushing social codes that govern their sexual, professional, and familial lives. 

Originally published in

BOMB 58, Winter 1997

Featuring interviews with Michael Ondaatje, Billy Bob Thornton, Hilton Als, Oumou Sangare, Emmet Gowin, Donald Antrim, Stuart Hall, Marjetica Portč, Miloš Foreman, and David Rabinowitch.

Read the issue
Issue 58 058  Winter 1997