Sam and Joseph Chaikin were commissioned to write this play for the 1996 Olympics Art Festival in Atlanta, Georgia.

Also called "A Chef's Fable, it's the tale of five generations of feuding and bloodletting. It is also a fable with a moral about the cycle of senseless killing and a touch of the fantastic. An Old Man, who was once a chef, is serving a sentence for murdering a man he mistook for his cousin to avenge a generations-old feud over the poisoning of a mule. A young woman claiming to be a reporter interviews him about the murder. Their eight conversations are interspersed with a sequence of monologues in which both characters recall incidents from their childhood. These link together to form a tender narrative of regret and loss through which they transcend their memories and reach mutual forgiveness and love.

On a basic level, the play is a glorious homage to food because for the Old Man, the world was green during his idyllic past as a cook. His memories are draped in a sweet kind of nostalgic melancholy. The Old Man's succulent descriptions of various foods and their preparations, and the scenes where he teaches the woman how to cook a dish, make the piece also about the creative process itself. Although his life was governed by the grim fact that he had to murder his cousin, he was still able to find small moments of great beauty in the meals he created. Ultimately, though, the woman wants his story, and this is the gift he gives to her.

Sam Shepard

"There's an emphasis on food at the end. That was Joe [Chaikin]. The chef. Joe was obsessed with cooking and food, and he just insisted on this food thing. Every time we'd get together, it was always about the food, and I just went along with it. I kind of liked this character, this Chef, this Chef who was a murderer. It was great working on 'When the World Was Green'. We started off working on the Devil as a subject, and it moved into this other territory somehow."

Performance History

World premiere at the 1996 Olympics Arts Festival - July 19, 1996 - 14th Street Playhouse Mainstage, Atlanta, GA


"Chaikin and Shepard seem to be saying something about the redemptive power of 'heavenís most perfect fruit,' and of women. The reporter comes from a household devoid of men, filled with generations of women. Only a woman can end the feud, says the Old Man, because only a woman has the power to give birth and therefore stop death. The mango, in many cultures, symbolizes the feminine - fertility and love - and is often eroticized. Here it also represents transformation. The thing about cooking that so enthralls the Old Man, he says, is 'changing gifts from the earth into food.' Through the course of the play, the characters transform from the staples of a family feud into something life-sustaining... The final scene is the playís triumph. And the longer you sit with this unhurried play, the more it reveals itself, like the Old Man tenderly peeling away at the skin of the mango."    - Jennifer Chung Klam, San Diego Arts

"Spun from a web of meditations on everything from cooking to warfare , the play glimmers with Shepardesque themes: the falseness of memory, the gulf between men and women and, above all, the uncertainty of identity... Theatergoers who have lost touch with Mr. Shepard's work are unlikely to find a more solid means of reacquainting themselves with it." - Ben Brantley, NY Times

"'The joy in theater comes from discovery and the capacity to discover,' Joseph Chaikin writes in 'The Presence of the Actor', his seminal book on acting. The joy in this production of 'When the World Was Green' is great because there is so much to discover." - Les Hunter, Off Off Online

"An eloquent, engaging script from beginning to end (a mere eighty minutes later). - Rob Hopper, San Diego Playbill

"In Chaikin's words, his work with Shepard was 'thought music.' That's an apt term to describe this one-act memory play, which has richly lyrical, sensuous descriptions of both childhood memories and food."  - Kerry Clawson, Akron Beacon Journal

"Actor/writer Sam Shepard and innovator Joseph Chaikin made very different stage works individually; but when they collaborated, the results could be stunning, theatrically simple yet philosophically profound... If you're open to the pull of memory and imagination this gentle, wise, image-laden allegory may sweep you away." - Ann Marie Welsh, San Diego Union-Tribune